I will assume that, by now, just about everyone has heard of The Hunger Games (THG), and know the basic storyline.
While The Hunger Games smashed box office records, the peripheral story has shifted from its success to the ugliness of [some] of its fans, who’ve been expressing racism toward its casting of the characters of Cinna, Thresh and Rue.
I haven’t seen the movie, but I have read the books, and have followed the casting news, media hype and trailers, etc. I have known for some time that some fans had issues with the casting, but the degree of racist vitriol has been mostly lost on me.
Then comes Jezebel.com’s article about the twitter-based racist rants of some fans, angry that Rue’s played by a black actress (Amandla Stenberg). Not only are these racist posters scums and lowlifes, but they clearly have reading comprehension problems.
Anyone who has read the book knows that Suzanne Collins, the author, describes Rue, and Thresh for that matter, as having “dark-brown skin” with “black eyes.” How these racists can read this and still imagine Rue as “blonde with blue eyes” is mind-boggling, but makes sense through racialized lens.
Katniss Everdeen, the central character, compares Rue to her sister Primrose, who’s indeed blonde-haired and blue-eyed. In the minds of the racist posters: 1.) Rue has to be white to be sympathetic. According to one poster, Rue’s race made her death less sympathetic and sad than if she were white. 2.) Rue cannot be black if she’s compared to a blonde, blue-eyed character, even if the comparison’s only in demeanor and age and size.
This sort of “reasoning”is not new. In the past, I compared black actress Meagan Good to white actress Aimee Teegarden, because I do see a resemblance between them. However, I have received comments such as…”Amy is white and Meagan is black so how can you say they resemble each other?”
The conclusion is that many people cannot look past race. I am aware of the races of the actresses, but my comparisons were based on their facial features and hairstyle, which made them white-black versions of each other. Some people don’t and will never get this, however. They cannot see past race; hence the problem with Rue. She is compared to a pale-skinned, blonde with blue-eyes so some readers choose to ignore the other descriptions of her, and insist on imagining her as white with blonde hair and blue-eyes.
Then, there’s the “white as default” paradigm. In the absence of explicit racially stereotyped descriptions, it must be assumed that all characters are white. While Collins describes Rue as dark-brown skinned with black eyes, she did not use “African-American” nor “black”; likely because her world is futuristic and she had the good sense to know those terms may have no relevance then; that, and the fact that ‘race’ has no relevance to her heroine, Katniss, from whose perspective the story is told. After all, it’s through Katniss’ eyes that Rue is depicted.
Speaking of Katniss. In the books, Katniss is described as olive-skinned with black hair and dark gray eyes. Many see her as Native American, Hispanic or part; and I expected Collins to explain this, since her sister and mother are typical pale-skinned blondes with blues eyes. I expected to hear that Katniss’ father wasn’t her biological father, but that didn’t come, nor did the Katniss is mixed race storyline. So, it was alright to cast a pale-skinned blonde, blue-eyed actress and avoid controversy.
But, back to Rue. Not only is she the subject of nasty vitriol off-screen, but also, the subject of racial movie tropes on-screen. Many blacks see her as the sacrificial black lamb, a character like the Magic Negro. It’s her death that triggers Katniss’ revolt against The Capitol and subsequently the revolution that becomes the focal storyline of books two and three. But, this is not necessarily a bad thing; after all, as it’s pointed out, just about everyone dies in the book, and at least, she didn’t die first.