"Why Is Rue Black?" Racism and the Hunger Games

BlogHer Original Post

The Hunger Games opened this weekend as the third-highest grossing film of all time, behind only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two, and The Dark Knight. Online, in print, and in person, it seemed like everywhere I looked or went someone was talking about the movie or the Suzanne Collins book it was based on. Was this the United States I was living in, I wondered, or Hunger Games Nation?

These days it's a little of both. But as the reactions rolled in, amid the typical disagreements over whether the film was better or worse than the book, true to the story or too far afield, other topics surfaced. One of these, unexpectedly to many people who likely expect more from human beings than base behavior and judgments based on skin color, was the race of the characters -- more specifically, the races of the actors playing some of the main characters. Some moviegoers, unbelievably, expressed disappointment, confusion, concern, or outright revulsion on Twitter and Facebook that characters Rue, Thresh, and Cinna were played by black actors.

Yes. Disappointment. Confusion. Concern. Outright revulsion, because that's not sad and ridiculous at all. (Except for yes, yes it is.)

Image Credit: Lionsgate Films

The Hunger Games Tweets Tumblr published many of the tweets, Reactions range from "I didn't think Rue would be black" to more hateful descriptions involving the n-word, with some tweeters saying that the presence of the black actors "ruined" the film, and in one sad, memorable case, a person stating that he was less sad when a character died because she was black:

Most of these accounts that have since been shuttered, and gag accounts for some of the original posters, such as maggie_mcd11's, have been created, publishing variations of her well-publicized "not gonna lie" meme.

Not gonna lie, those tweets kinda ruined my night, and clearly, these people who feel so betrayed did not read the descriptions of these characters very carefully. (Reading comprehension counts, kids.) Collins writes this description of Rue in the book:  

And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor.

And Thresh:

The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He's one of the giants, probably six and half feet tall and built like an ox.

Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz, is only described as having green eyes and close-cropped dark hair. And all I'll say about that is that I cannot fathom why anyone would have any problem with Lenny Kravitz's appearance in any context, or why Jezebel commenters spent hundreds of words parsing this when they could have been discussing how we live on a planet where people are tweeting ignorant comments about characters described as having dark skin actually being played by actors of color. (Hat-tip to Kelly Wickham, @mochamomma, for pointing out the comment thread there.) 

Racial chatter is not new in the context of this movie, unfortunately. Racialicious published a post in November, 2011 called "Yes, There Are Black People In Your Hunger Games," soon after posters for the movie were released and some fans were similarly rattled that the actors didn't reflect their perceptions of the characters as white. In this case the site published Facebook threads from The Hunger Games wall with similar themes of confusion and in some cases upset over the presence of black actors in roles that were, again, depicting characters described as having dark skin. 

And it's not like the book's description really matters anyway. What if a director or producer wanted to cast a talented actor like Amandla Stenberg or Dayo Okeniyi as Rue or Thresh respectively? What difference does it make? 

There is hope, in the many responses on the Hunger Games Tweets Tumblr and the Facebook page from people upset and embarrassed by the racially-motivated reactions.


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