Racist film fans disappointed when all good characters aren't cast white
// Victoria Fawkes

The Hunger Games, the wildly popular film based on the equally popular book of the same name, had the honor of having the third-highest opening weekend of all time, behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Dark Knight. However, both films had the strength of being a franchise to attribute their success to, while The Hunger Games was the very first of the series to be made into a film, making its success even more amazing. The special effects, visual effects, and plotline had diehard fans and newbies alike on the edges of their seats. The casting, however, had some people shaking their heads, but not for the right reasons.

In the post-apocalyptic world of Panem, the country in which the critically acclaimed Hunger Games is set, the colour of your skin means very little. To fans, however, the colour of some character’s skin made all the difference in their feelings towards the film. The Hunger Games, which has a near cult-like following of fans, is the kind of book in which filmmakers must be careful to pay special attention to detail and the original plotline and characters, to avoid ruffling the feathers of serious fans. Since these fans are devoted to the book that this film is based on, special attention was paid to the characters, mainly their appearances.

In the book series, the main character of Katniss Everdeen is described as being slight, with dark hair, olive skin, and grey eyes. In many readers’ minds, Katniss could be pictured as white, Native American, or of even African-American descent. In the film, Katniss is played by actress Jennifer Lawrence, who was chosen not for her likeness to the character, but for her acting chops. Born fair-skinned, blonde, and blue-eyed, Lawrence was not the first choice for many fans when it was announced that she would play Katniss. Rather, Lawrence grew into her role, dying her hair brown, and more than proving herself in the adventurous and gritty role of the lead.

Many fans, however, did not readily take to the three black characters in the film, two of which (Rue and Thresh) are described as having “dark skin” in the book. The third black character, Cinna, is described as having dark hair and green eyes, but the color of his skin is never discussed. The casting, like in many movies, was left up to the imagination of the casting directors – and many fans weren’t happy about it, posting disdainful comments on social media websites like Twitter.

According to Jezebel.com, one woman who saw the movie was so upset that a black actress had been cast as the character of Rue, she claimed it ruined the movie: “Why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie,” she tweeted. Another Twitter user posted the comments, “cinna and rue weren’t suppose to be black” and “why did the producer make all the good characters black smh,” implying that protagonists and positive characters should only be Caucasian. Perhaps the most upsetting comment was one by a man who tweeted, “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself.”

Their message is clear as day: white people have more worth than black people. In other words, if the character of Rue had been cast as a white girl instead of a black girl, her death would have been sadder because it is more upsetting when a blonde, blue-eyed little girl dies. There were many more racist comments, some even using racial epitaphs and slurs to insult the black characters.

It’s not just reactions to The Hunger Games where you can see examples of blatant racism; you can see it in real life, too. There are so many murdered and missing children that can be seen on the news, but it always seems like it’s only the little white girls and boys that get airtime, and therefore, may get found more often than children of colour.

Nothing makes the populace sadder than when a little white girl dies. For example, the 1996 murder of beautiful little blonde beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. This case can still be seen on newsstands, over 15 years later. Since that time, the murders and disappearances of thousands of children of colour in the United States have been recorded, usually without national notice. The fact that American people still cannot get over the death of one little white girl proves that the general public believes that white people have more worth than people of colour, something that is simply not right. We are all born equal, and the colour of our skin should not dictate the value of our character.

“Whitewashing” is nothing new in blockbuster Hollywood films. The Last Airbender, a 2010 film based on the Nickelodeon series of the same name, is heavily based on both Inuit and Pacific Asian culture. The filmmakers were accused of being racist after it was revealed that the majority of the cast would be made up of white actors; and not only that, but the few actors of colour it did cast were put in villainous and antagonistic roles in the film. Fans of the series were angered by the choices made by the casting directors, and called for more diversity in the film. Their calls were ignored however, and the film went forward with the predominantly white cast.

While racial stereotypes are nothing new in the media, they do contribute to a negative view towards certain minorities, which may be a form of life imitating art. In popular media, clean-cut white characters are often cast as heroes, and black characters as thugs and antagonists, a trend originating from hundreds of years of racial intolerance and oppression. It’s clear from reactions to The Hunger Games casting of three black characters that Hollywood needs to continue casting minorities in films, and make it the norm.

//Victoria Fawkes, writer
//Graphics by Britta Bachus

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com