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“The Hunger Games” reveals racist assumptions in the audience
Tweets decry the casting of characters described in the book as having “dark brown skin” with black actors. No, really.
Whenever a best-selling book is brought to the big screen, there are always fans who complain that the film isn’t exactly what they pictured while reading. But The Hunger Games, which was released this weekend to record-breaking ticket sales and critical acclaim, has inspired an especially nefarious group of naysayers: racists.
A Tumblr called Hunger Games Tweets has collected 21 pages (and counting) worth of responses from people whose Hunger Games filmgoing experience was ruined because the producers dared to cast dark-skinned actors as some of their favorite characters. Spoilers ahead:
“kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself,” tweeted one user named @jashperparas (whose Twitter account no longer exists), referring to a character played by 13-year-old Amandla Stenberg.
Elsewhere, @maggie_mcd11 (whose account has also been removed) tweeted, “why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie.”
In addition to being racist, these users have also apparently failed to read the book carefully. Rue is described by author Suzanne Collins as having “dark brown skin and eyes.” The same is true of Thresh, played by the Nigerian-born actor Dayo Okeniwi, a casting choice that has inspired a similar brand of vitriol.
At least it’s the audience rather than the studio which is whitewashing characters—as happened with Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, whose hero, Ged, is supposed to have red-brown skin but was played by a white actor.
If these characters had been described in the book as having porcelain skin and golden hair, it still wouldn’t excuse the racism, but it would have at least explained the following tweets from Haylee Franklin (@FrankieFresh) and @AmsyyLeSavage who have clearly and perhaps tellingly misremembered the book’s details:
“why is Rue a little black girl? #sticktothebookDUDE @TheHungerGames”
“Uuuuhhhhh Rue looks NOTHING like I imagined her. Isn’t she supposed to be a pale readhead (or was that just in MY head?)? Why is she black?!”
To both users’ credit, they were brave enough to keep their Twitter accounts active. Franklin even used it to defend herself today:
“honestly, I guess I just misread her appearance and I thought she was like, Indian. and it bothers me when movies change characters. it wasn’t that she was black, I just thought she wasn’t how she was supposed to be, but I was wrong. I am not racist.”
Apparently racism is something you can simply misremember, like a character in a book.
Either way, the implication behind many of these tweets is that a young black person’s life is somehow less valuable than a young white person’s life, which, particularly in the wake of tragedies like the Trayvon Martin killing, is a very disturbing notion.
David Holmes is a technology and politics reporter. His work has appeared in Fast Company, the Guardian, the Daily Beast, and Stereogum. In 2011, he wrote the acclaimed "The Fracking Song (My Water's on Fire Tonight) based on ProPublica's investigation on hydraulic fractured gas drilling.