'The Hunger Games' Inspiring More Racism

'The Hunger Games' Inspiring More Racism

via Jezebel

A few weeks back there was quite a kerfuffle over the casting of The Hunger Games movie. Though the character of Rue was described as black in the books, and subsequently played by a black actress, some fans voiced very scary, very hateful reactions. In their minds, the character should have been played by a white actress. 

Now racism is becoming an issue yet again for the popular YA series. 

A fan of Grey's Anatomy actor Jesse Williams created a blog to make the case that Williams should play Finnick Odair in the sequels. The only problem is, Finnick is described as having tan skin and blonde hair, whereas Williams is black. Cue the outrage.

A lot of the more racist comments have gotten deleted from boards like this, but the fact remains, people are having some very troubling reactions--especially for a book in which many of the characters are described as dark-skinned or of mixed race.

I remember when Daredevil came out (unfortunately) and there was a shitstorm over Michael Clarke Duncan getting cast as the Kingpin, a character who, in comic book world, is white. Or when Donald Glover was proffered for the role of Spider-man (a daring, fantastic idea), and comic book fans across America had a collective aneurysm. (Oddly, there didn't seem to be a ton of complaints about Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, but maybe I missed it. Then again, he did serve as the basis for The Ultimates universe version of Fury so... whatever.)

I also remember last year when Zone One by Colson Whitehead came out, and a bunch of the reviewers made a big deal about how Whitehead didn't reveal that the main character was black until the end of the book--and it wasn't a twist, it just came up in the context of explaining a joke. Some people just seemed really surprised that the character was black the whole time.  

Which raises some interesting questions, about the nature of race in fiction. 

When adapting for the screen, how much does race actually matter? Does the casting of a black actor "ruin" a movie, as some fans of The Hunger Games have suggested

And when you're reading a work of fiction, how important is it for the writer to designate race? If the writer doesn't, do you just automatically align the characters with your own race? 

Image of The Hunger Games (Book 1)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Price: $6.21
Publisher: Scholastic Press (2010)
Binding: Paperback, 384 pages
Rob Hart

News by Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor, as well as the associate publisher for MysteriousPress.com. He's the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella, and his short stories have appeared in publications like Shotgun Honey, ThuglitCrime Factory, and Needle: A Magazine of Noir. His debut novel, New Yorked, will be published by Polis Books in June 2015. He lives in New York City, and you can find his website at www.robwhart.com.

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Comments

Larry Hill's picture
Larry Hill May 7, 2012 - 2:25pm

I think people are sticklers to how they envison the characters they read about. Some probably are racists. I know in adaptations even other small changes will make people cry into their spilt milk.  I'm all for changes even race if it makes sense but some characters and situations need to stay as they are.

Stacy_R_Haynes's picture
Stacy_R_Haynes from North Charleston, SC is reading The Uses of Enchantment May 7, 2012 - 2:28pm

Those racist fans (and I don't know if they can be called fans/readers in the sense that they actually aren't able to appriciate the text) wouldn't know quality if it came and backhanded them.  They nullify their own ability to object with that lack of understanding.   

In regards to casting different races in certain roles, I think depends on the qulity of the acting, the role, and what we know about characters being adapted. Is the role flexible enough to allow for a different interpretation?  

Typewriter Demigod's picture
Typewriter Demigod from London is reading "White Noise" by DeLilo, "Moby-Dick" by Hermann Mellivile and "Uylsses" by Joyce May 7, 2012 - 2:29pm

Their tears are delicious.

BludgeonBob's picture
BludgeonBob from America - Coast to Coast is reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell May 7, 2012 - 2:51pm

Adapting a book to screen should only concern race if the book is about a specific race. Watching a movie about American slavery and having Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth played by Donald Sutherland and Aishwarya Rai is a bit ridiculous. Harry Potter as an African-European? Why not? Donald Glover as Spider Man? I would pay to see that three times in the theaters! Ultimately, what I'm looking for in an actor is if they understand, embody, and portray the character well.

When reading, I tend to ascribe the characters to the Author's race. Obviously that is not to say people can only write about their race (hint, hint Toni Morrison), but that for someone to write outside of their race (gender, sexual orientation, experience, religion, etc.) is more difficult. It's hard for a white, middle-aged male to know the trials, tribulations, and opinions of a teenage Hispanic girl; not impossible, just more difficult. Chuck's characters I imagine as white, Haruki Murakami's characters I imagine as Japanese, Paulo Alto's characters I envision as Hispanic, etc. Unless race comes into the work as a vital element (Huckleberry Finn).

Mike Goldstein's picture
Mike Goldstein May 7, 2012 - 3:33pm

I'm sure part of the Spider-man thing had less to do with the race than to do with randomly making Peter Parker black. Since, as you said, there wasn't a huge outcry when Samuel L Jackson was cast as Nick Fury, race probably isn't the major factor there.

A lot of people argue that racism starts out with a predisposition to fearing people who are different, which then is transformed into racist behavior through the household environment. So while you learn it from your parents, it's really in there to begin with, and it's just evolution.

That's all crap. There have been a bunch of studies that indicate there is no genetic predisposition to racism. In fact, the splitting of our species into different "races" is relatively new, and different groups evolved in isolation for each other, so there would be no evolutionary benefit to that behavior. Additionally, population biologists have a real problem with talking about "races," since while we may seem to display genetic variations, the variations you see in most Europeans and Asians are actually a subset of African variations. This is because, as a species, we lived in Africa for significantly longer than anywhere else.

Racism is a learned behavior. It's not just "who you are." These people need to own up to their ignorance and move on.

Mike Goldstein's picture
Mike Goldstein May 7, 2012 - 3:34pm

Also, speaking as someone who isn't really a comic book person, a black Spider-man would be awesome.

JYH's picture
JYH from the place is reading the thing May 7, 2012 - 3:35pm

Samus was a woman.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy May 7, 2012 - 4:10pm

People will have a tendancy to ascribe whatever they are to a character unless told otherwise. If you were given a character with entirely gender neutral traits and never said otherwise, I think a reader will read the character in whatever their own voice is. If they were suddenly told that the character was the opposite sex or another race, they will be shocked.

That doesn't make people racist or sexist, just human.

However, reactions against particular actors based solely on race are still troubling, especially in situations like this where the characters are described as dark skinned. Regardless, should it really matter?

There were a lot worse things about the Daredevil movie than Duncan as Kingpin. In fact, I would argue it was better casting than Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind May 7, 2012 - 4:26pm

Donald Glover as Spider-man? WHY THE HELL NOT? He would have been perfect! I would be way more excited to see the movie, then. I mean, the new spider-man comics don't have a white Spider-man. It actually confused me when the new Spider-Man movies had that Andrew Garfield fellow as Spidey. 

For me, I don't care what race the actor is, as long as he or she can accurately portray the character's personality. Which is why I don't buy into the whole "racebending" fiasco that was the Airbender movie (the movie sucked, regardless of who acted in it) and why anyone who complains a film has been whitewashed is just as bad as anyone complaining that their beloved protaganist from such-and-such shouldn't be played by a black guy. Really, as long as the actor becomes the character, that's all that matters.

When I read the Hunger Games, Rue was definitely described as being a little black girl. That is exactly how I pictured her. When I saw her in the film, I knew her actress was the best choice. 

People are so stuck on movies-based-on-books being exactly like the books, and that's a big problem. Not everyone is reading the same book. Sure, it has the same words, the same amount of pages, the same cover -- but the way it plays in our minds is completely different. Who we cast, the landscape, the clothing, all of it--that's OUR story.

But some people are so stupid that they can't handle it when a film isn't exactly like the book they read a week ago. And that includes the characters.

Also, In terms of Zone One, was it ever hinted that he might be black? Because I'd be surprised too. Either describe how your character looks in the first few chapters, or don't describe it at all, because by then we have a vision for how the characters look and we don't like to change it. This happened in the John Cleaver books... I pictured the main character one way, but in the second book, he described himself a different way. It threw me off. I didn't like that. :( 

Matthew Myers's picture
Matthew Myers May 7, 2012 - 4:58pm

The current Spider Man in the "Ultimates" line is actually a black/hispanic kid. I think Donald Glover would have been a very good choice, and been in line with Marvel's decision to use a lot of Ultimates source material for their recent movies. It's a shame it didn't happen.

ReneeAPickup's picture
ReneeAPickup from Joshua Tree, CA is reading A truckload of books. May 7, 2012 - 6:00pm

Hmm. I agree that the outrage over Rue and Thresh was inspired by bigotry (especially given some of the commentary that accompanied it) but I don't think that saying an actor should at least look a little bit like the character was described in the book is racist. Finnick's looks were relatively important part of his backstory, and so they were talked about quite a bit.

Other characters, I don't think I would argue the same thing, I mean, I actually had to have someone tell me that Cinna was never described in the books, and President Snow looked nothing like I had pictured him, but definitely made the role work for him. In Finnick's case, though, his looks are so ever important to his story line. It seems odd to veer so far away from what was written in the book.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this May 7, 2012 - 6:21pm

Sparrow--if his looks are important to the storyline, that's fine. But for his storyline to work, does he need to be pretty, or pretty and white? Honeslty? I'm not being combative, I'm genuinely curious. I haven't read the books. 

Wayne Rutherford's picture
Wayne Rutherford from Columbus, Ohio is reading Ember by Madison Daniel May 7, 2012 - 8:16pm

Maybe I'm the only person who noticed this but, isn't a bit more racist that the dark skinned characters all worked the fields? Am I the only one who noticed that?

Miranda McCausland's picture
Miranda McCausland from Guelph, Ontario, Canada is reading Pretty Neat May 7, 2012 - 9:05pm

If he supposedly has dark skin and blond hair can't they just dye his hair? What I got from his character was just that he wasn't modest and everyone wanted him, the actor they're suggesting can definitely play cocky/sexy, he would be an awesome Finnick! He even has light eyes, he's kind of a racially ambiguous person anyway. Saying he can't play Finnick is kind of like saying Emma Stone can't be in the new Spiderman because she's a red-head instead of blond. This is 2012, appearances can be easily altered with makeup or after effects if necessary, they should definitely not be the most important aspect when it comes to casting. What should matter is the ability to actually portray the character and do the book justice, which he could in my opinion.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Lexington, Kentucky is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 8, 2012 - 11:20am

@Rob - Finnick's hair & looks is a big deal. The looks because the climax of the series is partly dependent on it. The hair not as much but some what. I got the impression his blond hair  was more bleached by the sun from lots of time outside, rather then him being light complected. Being blond from all that sun lends crediablity to several major plot points. I'm not sure what they will present on screen, but I am under the impression the character was a tanned white guy. It looks like this Jesse Williams guy can pull that look off with in a film that has a several million dollar budget. 

If someone didn't like her as Rue because of her look, that's just stupid. They actresses even look a bit a like they way the books say the do.

http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/willow-shields?before=1333478052

And Donald Glover as Peter Parker is horrible, couldn't do a good job of that with a gun to his head. Donald Glover is way too cool, you need someone with some huge nerd factor. A black Peter Parker would need to be someone you know can dork out, like Jaleel White.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this May 8, 2012 - 11:32am

Dwayne, I understand that his looks are a big deal, but that doesn't answer my question: Does he need to be white, or just pretty? Does blonde hair or whiteness solves something in the plot? That's my question. You're the second person to say his looks are important but I don't understand how the character being black, white, or bi-racial makes any difference. The sense I get is that he just needs to be attractive. 

And, Glover could have pulled off Parker, because he's an actor, and actors are good at acting, but also, his character on Community is a nerd. He may be smooth for a nerd, but he's still a nerd.

Jaleel White, on the other hand, definitely can't play high-school student Peter Parker, being that White is 35 years old. 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Lexington, Kentucky is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 8, 2012 - 12:03pm

@Rob - Sorry to be unclear. Yes, his race and hair are middling important to the plot. I could be wrong about all it is the impression I came away with. He was dark because of his tan even though he had naturally white skin, and his hair was blond because it was sun bleached. This was used to show that he spent most of his time outside, which was used to make him being an Olympic class swimmer more believable/less out of the blue. His being a very strong swimmer is a fairly major plot point in his back story and the events of the 2nd book. Also it show that he spends his time swimming. This explains why he as a Winner, who doesn't have anything to do except chill till he gets pimped out as a man hooker once a year, is still sporting 8 pack abs.

Minor point, and I could be wrong, but the Capital seems to divide people up by race to help keep them divided. Everyone from a black district seems to be black, everyone from a white district is white, so on. The only exception seems to be District 12 which as a slight difference in completion between miners and shop keepers. The folks from District 4 in the first film are fairly pale in the first film.

http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/04/28/the-hunger-games-district-4-tributes-cast-ethan-jamieson-tara-macken/

My point was this actor could be portrayed as the character is described, tanned white guy with sun bleached hair.

I didn't believe/like him in Community, seemed too cool for the character. And I was thinking of him as more the grown married to M.J. Peter Parker, less the high school Peter Parker. But yes if we are talking high school Peter he is too old for that.

 

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks May 8, 2012 - 4:12pm

If I don't know a character's race, I automatically consign them to mine, that's true. I missed the fact that Kingsley in Harry Potter was black (I honestly don't know how) and was confused when I saw the movie, but I wasn't angry. The actor did a fucking fantastic job.

As for Donald Glover playing Spiderman, I'd pay to see that, and I'm not a fan of superhero movies at all. I'm a fan of Donald Glover (I paid sixty dollars to see him in concert as Childish Gambino next month.) He's a fantastic actor (and rapper) and if he took on Spiderman, it'd be a movie worth seeing.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Lexington, Kentucky is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 8, 2012 - 6:57pm

I would see him more as Luke Cage.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this May 8, 2012 - 7:29pm

You see the super-scrawny early-20s Donald Glover as a massively-pumped, mid-30s Luke Cage? 

We must be reading different comics. 

Wayne Rutherford's picture
Wayne Rutherford from Columbus, Ohio is reading Ember by Madison Daniel May 8, 2012 - 10:44pm

Am I going to have to be the asshole who points out that the "Spider-Man" who is currently residing in the Ultimates universe ISN'T Peter Parker who is the one, true, Spider-Man? It's like replacing Freddie Mercury with that dude from Bad Company. While it might be good, it still isn't Queen.

The problem with casting an actor of a different race in the role of a movie based off of a comic/graphic novel, manga, whatever is that the character has already been GIVEN a race. You can look at it and see it. I had a huge problem with Michael Clark Duncan being Kingpin because Kingpin is white. I've read enough comics to know that. Call it racism if you'd like, I'd prefer to call it keeping with the artist's vision.

*Queue obligatory remark regarding Sam Jackson's Nick Fury in 3...2...1...*

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Lexington, Kentucky is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 9, 2012 - 11:03am

@Rob - I'm of the mind set if they can make Edward Norton the Hulk (and make it cool) they can take/add a few years. His presence seems much more Cage and less Parker to me. On the realm of Spider-Man casting that isn't us guessing about movies no one plans to make, what kind of job you think this Andrew Garfield guy will do? I like that he seems to have the dork street cred, but will he be able to come across as a good action hero?

@Wayne - Me and Rob already went over the whole new Spider-Man thing. And that isn't a grammar mistake, I just like saying Me and whoever more then whoever and I.

http://litreactor.com/columns/ultimate-spider-man-the-hero-we-need-thoug...

And even before I hated anyone besides Peter Parker being Spider-Man, under any circumstances. Even a guy who looks just like him and has most of his memories.

http://litreactor.com/news/the-scarlet-spider-returns

And yes, Sam Jackson was the worst possible choice for Nick Fury. Black Fury or White Fury.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this May 9, 2012 - 12:22pm

How is Sam Jackson the worst choice for Nick Fury, when they literally patterend the character after him?!? He seems like the perfect choice then! This is the first time a comic book character has ever been cast who has looked exaclty like they do in the comic! (Yes, Ultimate universe, but still!)

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Lexington, Kentucky is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 9, 2012 - 1:12pm

Ultimate Nick Fury wants to be played by Sam Jackson if they make a movie. If they would have had anyone else doing it he could still have wanted that. By casting Sam Jackson as that charter it stopped making sense.

Also they didn't let him say m.fer so you know, why bother?

Wayne Rutherford's picture
Wayne Rutherford from Columbus, Ohio is reading Ember by Madison Daniel May 10, 2012 - 12:09am

@Dwayne - I'm aware that it was covered. But, it didn't seem to stop people from wanting Donald Glover to play Spider-Man.

 

I actually really like Donald Glover; his character on Community and his rap gig. I even watched the movie "Mystery Men" because he starred in it and I did laugh. But, to have him play Spider-Man...to say that I would be upset would be a huge understatment. Peter Parker has been Spidey longer than most, if not all of us on this discussion, have been alive.

 

Also, thank you for hating Ben Reilly.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Lexington, Kentucky is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 10, 2012 - 1:10am

We were talking about him as a black Peter Parker, or at least I was. I'd never discuss anyone else as Spider-Man except to say how horrible a idea it was.