<<spoilers ahead, and i’m not summarizin so wiki that shit>>
I’m really not sure where to start with all this… it’s all such a shit show! i’ll save all my nerdy thoughts on the book translation and more technical aspects of the movie for a later post so as to first focus on the shitshow that is racist fandom…
this was one of the first character posters for the Suzanne Collins book-turned-movie The Hunger Games released last november – the first widely available shots of the actors in their roles. Lenny Kravitz plays cinna – and is definitely one of my favorite parts of both the book and movie, while Amandla Stenberg is brilliant as the cherubic, tree-jumping rue. the character posters came out about 5 months ago and these are some of the responses they recieved. from t(w)eens. a whole fuck-ton of em actually.
the funny thing is, cinna’s race is never mentioned in the book. Collins’ gives us some of his wardrobe choices and the fact that he has green eyes and always wears gold eyeliner. that’s pretty much it. but everyone is falling over themselves because the gay (i read him as such, anyway), white protagonist they’ve been rooting for is suddenly – gasp! – black. which of course means he’s physically incapable of embodying all of that calm, reassuring, sweetness stuff that their fantasized white cinnas did. uhg.
but wait, there’s more: we haven’t even got to rue yet… and this was a character who was explicitly described in the books as having very dark skin. more than once. but lo, the movie opens, and with it, the floodgates of barely latent t(w)een racism.
you get the point. if you need to see more of this shit, you can read it ad nauseum with a TRIGGER WARNING for seriously fucked up racial language on the original tumblr meant to collect this crap. additionally, there’s some good analysis on the hunger games and race in these posts from racialicious, jezebel, feministing, and an interesting piece on katniss, femininity and compulsory heterosexuality over at blog of disquiet. Jezebel even has a super friendly character and race guide to the hunger games, in which rue is described as having “…dark brown skin and eyes.” Suzanne Collins was very explicit in the EW interview, saying of Rue and Thresh: “They’re African-American.” In the books, Collins adds that Rue has thick dark hair, dark satiny brown skin and “golden eyes.”
so apparently, some HG fans are not only super racist, but seem to have very low reading comprehension. or, equally likely, the power of whiteness as default in this country is so powerful, that most people — whites and PoC alike — will typically assume a character is white until specifically pointed out otherwise — a sort of white-until proven-black kind of a thing. and as evidenced by the above social media comments, some people buy into whiteness so completely that it overrides the words right in front of them –the ones describing their favorite characters as people of color, allowing them to read the description of rue as very dark skinned, for instance, and continue to imagine a button-nosed blond white girl (maybe with a tan?).
just reading the comments on cinna and rue a very clear racial narrative emerges. Kravitz, a black man, cannot play the calm, gentle cinna, because in white-supremacist culture, black can only mean aggression, violence, and a lack of emotion. and so HG fans are angry. i mean, if you read their words they just sound pissed, betrayed, even –but by what? do they think by the director –the casting director, perhaps? but really it’s just their own uncritical adherence to whiteness that has betrayed them, limited their own imaginations and ability to even take in new information if it’s contrary to the logic of whiteness.
funny how none of these outraged fans batted an eye when the filmmakers whitewashed the hell outta the Seam –maybe all of district 12 — including katniss, our supposedly black-haired, brown-eyed, olive-skinned heroin played (quite well, actually) by naturally blond, blue-eyed white woman with a tan jennifer lawrence of winter’s bone and x-men fame. but it wasn’t just her: with the notable exceptions of her mother and sister prim, gale and the other members of 12 are almost all described as having “olive skin” similar to katniss’ — some even darker. in the film, most of the people that appear in 12 — while occationally covered in dirt — seem to be about as white as prim.
like cinna’s haters, a similar sense of betrayal and resentment runs through the racist tweets about rue. “Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blond innocent girl you picture,” one tweet states. in white supremacist culture, innocence is white. of course. purity is white. kindness and sweetness are white. cuteness is white. noble sacrifice is white, too. so how can rue — friend, motivator, and innocent martyr for katniss and the emerging rebellion — be black?! the last tweet on rue above is perhaps the most telling. the author of the original hungergamestweets tumblr summed the phenomenon up better than most:
“All these…people… read the Hunger Games. Clearly, they all fell in love with and cared about Rue. Though what they really fell in love with was an image of Rue that they’d created in their minds… And then the casting is revealed (or they go see the movie) and they’re shocked to see that Rue is black. Now… this is so much more than, “Oh, she’ bigger than I thought.” The reactions are all based on feelings of disgust.
“These people are MAD that the girl that they cried over while reading the book was “some black girl” all along. So now they’re angry. Wasted tears, wasted emotions. It’s so sad to think that had they known that she was black all along, there would have been [no] sorrow or sadness over her death.”
and that right there is the crux of it, plainly spoken (er, blogged): black deaths are less sad – evoke less of an emotional response from white folks — and black life is valued less. what do these dismissive and/or outright hostile attitudes toward a fictional black child say to the real rues of the world –to black girls and young woman? to their families? what does it mean to tell someone, your life — and your death — mean less to me because your skins a different color? and doesn’t the internet just make it that much easier to do?
the hunger games fervor is a barometer of social attitudes at the same time it continues to shape them. these aren’t just benign tweets and posts sent out to the internet netherworld, this shit is real, and gettin passed around, and is part of a much larger problem with very tangible consequences for people of color in this country. when teens seem literally incapable of seeing a black man as gentle or sweet, and find it completely inconceivable — insulting, almost — that a black girl could represent innocence, its no surprise that the mainstream news remains saturated with stories of beautiful missing white women while more than 40% of missing persons are people of color. with these attitudes toward black life, it’s no wonder that black students, while comprising only 18% of the school system, account for 39% of all expulsions and are suspended 46% more than their peers. the wealth disparities, incarceration rates, constant police harassment, schools as segregated as they were over half a century ago — these are the real world consequences of those attitudes. these are what we reap for our adherence to racism. we don’t need teenagers on twitter to awaken us to the reality of white supremacy, though it’s certainly disheartening to see it flowing so freely from a younger generation (
we’re making racial progress, right? i mean obama was elected we’re already over it!). we need only look at people of color’s mortality rates, relative access to healthy food, toxic pollution in black and brown neighborhoods, and modern day lynchings victims like 17 year old trayvon martin to be reminded of just how much — or how little — lives of color are valued in a white supremacist state.