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Nadra Kareem Nittle

The "Hunger Games" Race Controversy

By March 30, 2012

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The Hunger Games may have made Hollywood history by scoring the third largest weekend box office opening ever, but that doesn't mean the film lacks detractors. In fact, some very vocal critics expressed their distaste for the film on Twitter. Their problem with the movie? They didn't like the fact that black actors played key characters in the film.

Amandla Stenberg plays Rue, who joins the film's protagonist, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), for the Hunger Games competition. Dayo Okeniyi plays Thresh, who hails from Rue's District 11. Author Suzanne Collins described both characters in the book the film is based on as having dark skin, but the fans who were upset over the film's casting choices apparently overlooked this. Fans also expressed dismay that Lenny Kravitz played Cinna, Katniss' stylist. His description in the book is more ambiguous, but certain viewers assumed that he was white and did not hesitate to say they were disappointed that a biracial black actor played him. "I thought Cinna was pale, with colored hair, and glasses?? Wtf," wrote one fan on Twitter in October once they learned Kravitz would play the character. Other Tweeters didn't explicitly say that Cinna should be played by a white actor but said that Kravitz simply didn't look like the character. After the movie opened, more of the fans focused on the fact that Stenberg, who's of black and Danish heritage, played Rue.

"I was pumped about the Hunger Games. Until I learned that a black girl was playing Rue," said one Tweeter. Another remarked, "Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn't as sad." One Tweeter took aim at both Cinna and Rue, commenting, "Cinna and Rue weren't supposed to be black... Why did the producer make all the good characters black?"

I found the comment about Rue's death not being as sad because a black actress played her particularly offensive. It's one thing to say that you expected a certain character to be a certain race. It's quite another to say that you lack total empathy for a character because an African American filled the role or that a black actress playing her ruined the entire film for you, as another Tweeter said. Even more disturbing is that I assume most of these Tweeters are young people. So much for racism dying off in another generation or so. What's more is that Amandla Stenberg, the 13-year-old actress who played Rue, is aware of the controversy and commented on it. She released a statement saying, "'As a fan of the books, I feel fortunate to be part of The Hunger Games family. It was an amazing experience; I am proud of the film and my performance. I want to thank all of my fans and the entire Hunger Games community for their support and loyalty."

Can you imagine having to deal with a public, racist backlash at the age of 13? My heart goes out to her.

As for those fans who are upset that the Hunger Games has black characters--I would suggest they study film history. For years, whites played characters who were written as people of color. Natalie Wood played the Puerto Rican Maria in "Westside Story." Mickey Rooney played the Japanese Mr. Yunioshi in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and Ava Gardner played the biracial black Julie in "Show Boat." More recently, whites have played Asian roles in films such as "The Last Airbender" and "21" and Latinos in "The Perez Family" and "House of Spirits." Angelina Jolie played the mixed-race Marianne Pearl in "A Mighty Heart." Given this, the angry "Hunger Games" fans just need to get over it.


Comments

April 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm
(1) JK says:

This is really sad. The country seems to be heading in the wrong direction. I love movies like The Matrix, which feature black characters like Morpheus, Niobe, and Link. I loved Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog. When I watch these movies, I don’t even think about the actors’ race; they’re just incredibly good performers, and I enjoy their work immensely. This new generation of racial hate makes me sad.

April 7, 2012 at 9:46 pm
(2) lostterminal says:

I really dislike everything about this article. Not only is it calling more attention to the few people who had negative things to say about the casting choices regarding race, but the author makes vast assumptions about what type of people making these comments. If you ignore the people who make asses of themselves, they won’t get the satisfaction of causing a scene. Let them think what they want, but certainly don’t blame this on the younger generation. There’s absolutely no evidence to back up claiming that this is all because of “younger racists.” Just like the people you’re calling out, you need to watch what stereotypes you’re propagating.

April 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm
(3) Serena Collins says:

Twitter comments like those would make me not want to see the film at all. I don’t see what the big deal really is. So what if someone black played leading parts?! America really needs to get over it’s racial issues. I am really embarrassed for this country. Even in make-believe land race is still all that matters.

April 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm
(4) Kayla says:

I read another article on this controversy & it had a good point – how the younger generation must have just read it superficially or their reading competency is not good. A lot of the people making comments via Twitter, etc. must not have comprehended what they read about the description of the characters & so not realized that they were described with dark skin in the books or maybe not remembered it.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but am about halfway through the third book in the series. My first thought when I started reading the first book (as I had already seen the movie trailers, etc.) is that Jennifer Lawrence & Liam Hemsworth’s coloring were off from the characters in the book. Both Katniss & Gale are described as having black hair, olive skin & gray eyes, even though Jennifer dyed her hair darker for the film & got a tan or whatever, it still wasn’t close to the book’s description of Katniss. Not that I think this will detract from the movie at all, it is just disappointing to see something so different from how I have imagined the characters the entire time. I think that disappointment or surprise is part of the people’s uproar on some of the actors being black, although some does point to racism, & some part being that they didn’t think before they spoke so it may have come across differently in the posts than the person meant it.
I can’t wait to go see the movie regardless of the controversy & do not think that the characters being played by black actors will detract from it whatsoever. What I would have issue with is if any of the actors’ performance in the movie not up to par!

September 22, 2012 at 4:21 am
(5) Sputnaz says:

The truth is black people are trying to win people over for years with guilt. Stop fighting for blacks fight against racism! There are no legitimate latino roles! Or asian roles!

September 22, 2012 at 4:26 am
(6) Sputnaz says:

The truth is black people have won people over for years with guilt. Stop fighting for blacks fight against racism! There are no legitimate latino roles! Or asian roles!

April 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm
(7) RJ says:

I had to read some articles about this for an Ethnic Literature college class and let me just say I am totally and utterly disgusted. How the hell can you people out there criticize the African American characters, I don’t care they are black they did a damn good job portraying the characters they meant too even Lenny Kravitz as Cinna I think that was a excellent choice and they better not change that in the upcoming movies.

June 8, 2013 at 2:06 am
(8) james says:

Ok I just need to say that just because someone is said to have dark skin does not necessarily make them black, many characters including katniss and gale are said to have darker skin but this is due to extenuating circumstances such as living in an area full of coal dust, the author dictates that it literally gets on and into everything, thus are olive colored. Rue and thresh are both orchard workers thus very tan, but not black as portrayed. There is no excuse at all for cinna unless you include the description of his clothes. Chaff is the only charachter described to be black in the second book( I have not read 3 yet) Also it is not fair to use those white actors in other films because they are acting as another race, cinna rue and thresh are not black actors portraying white charachters, thus not the same. Please lets not pretend Hollywood has a liberal bias… Just don’t. It is not a far cry that they are inserting color in a series that was indifferent about it so do not blame racist youth. Thanks.

September 5, 2013 at 6:48 am
(9) flootzavut says:

“kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.”

Wow. I kind of want to say to that person, if people are calling you racist, it’s BECAUSE YOU ARE RACIST. I’m as white as the driven snow, and even I can see that this is incredibly racist. How that actress must feel I can’t imagine :-/

And James, when you say there are “extenuating circumstances” for why Gale and Katniss have dark skin, you sound pretty damn racist too:

Extenuate

“Make (guilt or an offense) seem less serious or more forgivable.”

Having other than white skin is not something that is an offence unless you are racist.

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