Thursday, March 29, 2012

On Hunger Games: What do you mean, the black girl was black?

Note: This post is cross-posted at Feministe. It's spoiler-free after Chapter 18 of the first book, so if you've read Chapter 18, you're good, and if not, read this later.

Okay, so when casting announcements came out for the Hunger Games movie, I was surprised (and yet, sadly, not really surprised) to see that there weren't more non-white tributes. While over the course of a few hundred years and a few disasters the ethnic makeup of the various districts may have shifted such that of the 24 tributes selected at random, only two were black, but it takes some logic-wanking to get there. The book specifies a blond guy, a blonde girl, a redheaded girl, and maybe a couple of others, but otherwise sadistic dystopian reality TV shows wherein children are forced to murder each other for the entertainment of the privileged masses might be expected to know no color.

But that, as well as the search for the perfect Caucasian Katniss, just wasn't enough for some people. Hunger Games fans ("fans"?) were up in arms at the casting of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss's kind, compassionate stylist. Through the magic of reading comprehension, they managed to miss that a) Cinna's description isn't given beyond short, dark brown hair, gold eyeliner, and green eyes, and b) Kravitz is a cool drink on a hot day and they could have cast him as President Snow for all I care. (And--spoiler alert--in the movie, Kravitz does such a stellar job as Cinna that there could be no other.)

The wailing only got worse after the movie's release on Friday, as "fans" who hadn't seen a lot of advance materials got the shock of their lives to see a black character depicted by a black actress. Rue, played by the adorable Amandla Sternberg, was described as having "dark brown skin and eyes"--thus the ruination of the film at the hands of a dark-skinned, dark-eyed actress. On Twitter:

why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie

why did the producer make all the good characters black smh

Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn't as sad #ihatemyself

Okay, you're racist. (Also, wow, you suck. God, that scene was heartbreaking.)

Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture
Ohmygod, so awkward.

The Jezebel story linked above has a fairly comprehensive list of racists tweets about the movie, the casting, and even about poor Amandla Sternberg herself. Do not read them. They will make you very angry. The Hunger Games Tweets tumblr has a lot of funny responses, although they're peppered with a few of the original tweets like little land mines of hatred.

Listen, y'all: I'm sorry that when you read the book, every character was so shiny-white as to fluoresce under a blacklight, even when specified otherwise by the text. I'm sorry that an actor in a movie not looking like the character you had in your head is enough to completely spoil the film for you. I'm sorry you're not able to establish an emotional connection with a character if her skin is brown instead of beige, or that her murder becomes less tragic. I'm sorry there's a kind of hollowness in your soul such that you're comfortable thinking such horrible things about a 13-year-old girl, much less announcing them on the Internet. I'm sure it broke your heart to see Jennifer Lawrence's blond hair dyed brown. There's probably a support group for that.

Amandla Stanberg's Rue was the Rue in the book. She was perfect. And Lenny Kravitz was the hell out of Cinna. No question. If possible, he played a better Cinna than was written in the book. If Kravitz has embodied a character that thoroughly and authentically, that means that Cinna looks exactly like Lenny Kravitz. But it's okay--if you go back to your book, Cinna will be "super pale with blond hair"(?) again, just like the rest of Panem.

Update: Amandla Stenberg has responded in a statement, and good heavens is she busting with poise. I don't think I could manage that well in her situation.

No comments: