So the last few days there’s been a couple of conversations on Twitter about movies – favourite movies, last time we went to the movies, movies that are out or out soon that are worth watching. Inevitably there’s been a bit of discussion about The Hunger Games, and since Kobo was offering me some discounts I got the first two books for my ereader to see what they were like.
Apparently fandom is freaking out that Rue is black. Also two other characters, but especially Rue. For those who haven’t read the books, Rue is a twelve year old girl, the youngest age that the teenagers forced to participate in the games can be, from an agricultural district where the Peacekeepers are very harsh and often whip people for the slightest infraction. The main character teams up with her during the games until she’s killed, partly because she reminds her of her younger sister Prim who’s also twelve.
In the book, Rue is described as having “dark brown skin”. Wanna see a pic of the actress? She’s pretty cute. My main complaint is that she’s too pale, because that’s clearly not dark brown skin there. I admit I didn’t specifically read her as black, but I did read her as a POC of the darker variety, and when I saw her ethnicity linked to the plantation-esque nature of District 11 it was a rather “oh, duh” moment.
Mind you, the main character is described as having olive skin and dark brown hair, and she’s played by… Jennifer Lawrence! Considering the book makes quite a point of saying there are two different ethnic looks in District 12 where Katniss is from, the middle class townfolk who are paler and blonde and the Seam folk who mostly work in the mines who are darker, it definitely makes me raise an eyebrow to see a blonde girl cast in this role. At the very least they have darkened her hair for the movie but she’s still very, very white when by the text she should be a darker-than-white biracial girl.
The sad thing is, neither the casting nor the really ugly reactions in that very first link are a surprise to me. Some of the tweets are very educational though – you can see people specifically putting “black” and “frail and innocent” in opposing categories, like little black girls can’t possibly be either of those things. That sort of framing demonstrates very clearly why it’s hard for black families to find justice for murdered children, because if Amandla Stenberg is too black for people to sympathise with, too black to be cute, too black to stir people’s protective instincts, so black that there are people who feel furious and betrayed because they cried over a white girl’s death, black enough to be called the n-word and a “little black b—-” for daring to be cast as Rue, is it any surprise that they think the same things about other black kids like Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Jones, Mya Lyons or Alexis Glover? Movies are a wonderful world of escapism where the audience is asked – and able – to connect and relate to aliens, anthropomorphic animals, robots, cars, toy action figures – but only if they’re white.