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Rue won’t be whitewashed in “The Hunger Games”

April 7, 2011

Earlier this week, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth were cast as Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne in Lionsgate and Colorforce’s production of The Hunger Games.


Image Source:NY Daily News

As a result, the three principal actors in Ross’s The Hunger Games film trilogy will all be white.

In an April 7th, 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, The Hunger Games film adaptation director Gary Ross and the novel’s author, Suzanne Collins answered questions about the lead cast of The Hunger Games. Collins and Ross also confirmed that Rue, a supporting character and ally of Katniss in the first novel, will be played by an African American actor.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Some readers have expressed real frustration that white actors were cast in the roles of Katniss and Gale, who they felt were clearly described as biracial in the book. Do you understand or share any of that dismay Suzanne?

COLLINS: They were not particularly intended to be biracial. It is a time period where hundreds of years have passed from now. There’s been a lot of ethnic mixing. But I think I describe them as having dark hair, grey eyes, and sort of olive skin. You know, we have hair and makeup.

In the interview, Collins states that in her post-apocalyptic world of Panem, “a lot of ethnic mixing” has occurred, but also that Katniss and Gale are not biracial. She does not attempt to answer Entertainment Weekly’s question about whether or not she understands “fan dismay” about the casting.

We hope that Collins understands that fans are upset not because of their personally-held image of the characters, but because the casting call and process reflected the continued barriers actors of color and communities of color face in accessing representation in film. White actors are not prevented from portraying roles like Katniss and Gale, but non-white and multiethnic actors faced barriers from accessing the same opportunities.

Even though the novel’s descriptions of Gale and Katniss did not entirely preclude the casting of white actors, our organization and several media outlets had previously pointed out that “olive skin” and “straight black hair” are physical traits that could be possessed by someone of any ethnicity.

While white actors are cast to play lead white characters and lead characters of color (The Last Airbender, Prince of Persia), actors of color continue to face systemic discrimination in Hollywood. Many fans who contacted us were confused as to why the casting breakdown specifically targeted only white actors. As Paul Constant of The Stranger pointed out, “to specifically request Caucasians seems to reject a whole bunch of options before they’ve even been considered.”

COLLINS: But then there are some characters in the book who are more specifically described.

ROSS: Thresh and Rue.

COLLINS: They’re African-American.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So will those roles go to black actors?

ROSS: Thresh and Rue will be African-American. It’s a multi-racial culture and the film will reflect that. But I think Suzanne didn’t see a particular ethnicity to Gale and Katniss when she wrote it, and that’s something we’ve talked about a lot. She was very specific about the qualities that these characters have and who they are as people. Having seen Josh and Liam and Jen perform these roles, that’s really the most important thing. They’re very much the characters to us.

It is reassuring to hear that two of the supporting characters in The Hunger Games will be portrayed by actors of color, after hearing some speculation–also from Entertainment Weekly–questioning whether or not they needed to be.

We’re less reassured by Ross’s assertion that “Suzanne didn’t see a particular ethnicity to Gale and Katniss when she wrote it.” This statement does not necessarily explain or justify why only one particular ethnicity was cast–or why only white actors were recruited in the audition breakdown. White ethnicity is often treated as a neutral, invisible, and universal cultural norm, and Ross’s argument masks concerns about systemic discrimination in Hollywood.

If Collins did not envision Katniss and Gale as any ethnicity in particular, the production shouldn’t have restricted the auditions to Caucasian actors in the casting breakdown. This is where our frustration lies.

Because the three lead protagonists of The Hunger Games have been cast with white actors, the production may unintentionally present an unrealistic and stereotypical vision of a “multi-racial” future where the only characters who make significant decisions and have compelling stories are white. People of color and people of mixed ethnicity should be present and play important roles in movie depictions of a future America.

We do not have a problem with the specific actors who were cast; the writer is clearly happy with them. We do feel that it was wrong for the production to restrict open auditions to Caucasian actors, and hope that the remaining roles in The Hunger Games and future films from Lionsgate and Colorforce allow for actors of color to audition in cases where the character could by portrayed by someone of any ethnicity.

Categories: blog, The Hunger Games
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About the Author

Marissa Lee is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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  • Shaniqu4

    I just read that article on EW and wanted to see how you guys felt about it. I think it’s a great thing that Entertainment Weekly has brought up- not once, not twice, but at least three times -the issue of race in “The Hunger Games.” But, after reading what Collins had to say, I was a bit disappointed. Why didn’t Collins mentioned from the beginning that the people from the Seam weren’t biracial? We’ve had MONTHS of casting rumors. That article about Rue’s race was from last year and people have been pondering Katniss’ ethnicity for awhile. Personally, it feels as if she’s saying that merely to pacify fans. That part where Katniss is “sort of olive” really gets to me for some reason.

    • http://twitter.com/BarbotRobot Matt Barbot

      The people of the Seam *aren’t* biracial – they have a unique racial characteristic. That is to say, people from the Seam are a race. 

  • Coko

    You forgot this gem from the interview:

    “If Josh had been bright purple and had had six foot wings and gave that audition, I’d have been like “Cast him! We can work around the wings.” He was that good.” – Suzanne Collins

    But apparently not if Josh were black or Asian according to the casting call.

    • Maya

      Well if you want to split hairs, Peeta, unlike Katniss is clearly described as having blond hair and blue eyes. This kind of ensures that he’s not black or Asian. Obviously the author was using hyperbole to convey that Josh is really perfect for the role.

      • Venom

        I think the point the poster was trying to make was that bringing up purple people only goes to show her racism.

        http://abagond.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/purple-people/

        • Anonymous

           Collins is hardly racist.

          • Venom

            Nevertheless, from the page I linked one can see how that wording can be troublesome.

  • http://dcmoviegirl.blogspot.com dcmoviegirl@gmail.com

    Man, whatever.
    I’m not taking that bone, which would have been tossed anyway, to shut us up.
    Basically. Rue and Thresh are disposable back-up minorities, which is typical.

    They’ll be just like this guy from Prince of Persia:

    http://puzzles-games.eu/data/media/9/Prince-of-Persia-Seso.jpg

    Heck that film has Jergen’s Natural Glow-wearing white actors leading too.

  • Joshstone

    can’t ask the author who is getting paid and may be getting percentages on this and future projects. they both come off as cowards. deals btw agents, studios and an inherent racism permeating the movie industry are how these casting decisions are made. none of these people have a spine. pathetic.

  • Thaw

    What are you taking seriously about Katniss’ ethnicity? I have White friend whose father is and African American and Latino!
    P.S- Katniss is a red neck applachian (very rare in films)!

    • Kate

      Exactly. Regardless of the fact that Jen’s not of color, she is playing a character who’s from a region of the US that is constantly negatively stereotyped as being filled with people who are stupid and in-bred.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UGMVXLT6CMAZVD6VY63MMCMDCY Carbomba B

        she played it perfectly… and hated white people the whole time

  • Celeste

    Collins is a sellout

    • Anonymous

       To who, exactly? Every statement she has made has been in relation to her desire to make the films have as much artistic integrity as possible.

  • John

    rumor: Ross wanted Josh (a decent talent) for Peeta, but Lionsgate didn’t since they wanted Liam (an actor who seems to have very little to offer in the talent department) to play that part, so rumor has it that Liam was cast as Gale as a compromise. As long as the main leads are what the studio wants, then the rest of the cast can follow whatever the books states if they choose that path. It’s all a selling point. I highly douby Lawrence, as talented as she is, was the best choice. If you follow the casting timeline on HG IMDB board it’s sketchy at best. If they really wanted to be faithful or least find the best actress for the job (like they did for Steinfeld for True Grit) then open calls would have been done. Casting for the HG three main leads have been half-a**ed and it tells.

    • Moreno Zuli

      Good point on the True Grit reference. And what an amazing performance from an open call actor!

  • http://twitter.com/BarbotRobot Matt Barbot

     What’s amazing to me is that Collins is not admitting the strong elements of race written directly into the book. According to Katniss, District 12 has two kinds of people – there’s a class that is primarily concerned with mining, and they have olive skin, almond shaped gray eyes, and straight black hair. Then there’s an overwhelmingly blond, white merchant class. In the Hunger Games, Katniss observes this on multiple occasions, particularly because her father was a miner and her mother from the wealthier upper class, and because Katniss takes after her father whereas her sister takes after her mother. Peeta, a baker’s son, is blonde. In the second book, Katniss identifies people from District 12’s class by sight – merchants look one way, people from the Seam look a different way.

    This is even more pronounced with District 11. Two children, chosen at basically random, are both Black. Then in the next book, two more competitors are chosen at random, this time from the pool of surviving winners. Again, both are black. What this seems to mean to me is that District 11 is *overwhelmingly* Black.

    It’s true that ethnicity doesn’t mean the same thing in Collins’ world – too much time has passed, there’s been too much mixing, for our definitions and categories to really have the same meaning. It’s clear from the books, however, that not everyone is just the same color of beige, that race still exists, and that it’s salient to the people living in her world.

    For her to handwave all this as unimportant, essentially, tells me that Collins doesn’t understand the importance of what she’s created. 

    • El DiabloGirl

      I agree completely! Very eloquently stated as well. The
      details about District 11 – well, let’s just specify that the detail of
      especially harsh treatment like whippings – in conjunction with their ethnicity
      being specified as dark brown, might point towards the historical precedent of
      harsh treatment of darker people of color. Much like mentioning the resurgence
      of coal mining in the region, she does thematically dip into this idea of
      historical cycles more than once. Anyway, it does strike me as odd that Collins
      won’t intellectually address the discourse that she’s essentially presented to
      readers. Either she unwittingly tapped into her subconscious awareness of
      hegemony and doesn’t want to acknowledge it, or she’s playing wilfully ignorant
      in an attempt to subvert meaningful discourses on racial politics, historical
      or contemporary, for that matter. Regardless, it’s pretty insulting to reduce
      representation down to a simple matter of hair dye and makeup. Weak.

      • http://twitter.com/BarbotRobot Matt Barbot

        Yes. All of this.

  • nataly

    Rue and thresh should be tan not black!  And don’t say that i’m racist because I am african american.

    • Anonymous

      what do you mean by tan? A white person with a tan? A light skinned Asian person with a tan? A light skinned black person with a tan or a dark skinned Black person with a tan?

    • Vlad

      “And don’t say that i’m racist because I am african american.”

      Hahahaha. Really? Does that honestly matter? How ignorant are you?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BDF76YZFK3PPFZN5TMXTSCEOXU Jay Lac

      Your not African American…your BLACK, American. Your so stupid you can’t even get that right. Obama is African American.

      • Anonymous

        *sigh*

        kburd 

    • Lukas S.

      While it¨s true that they were never referred explicitly as being black in the books, there are several references and hints at them being black, like the fact that they were described as being from a region that mainly works with agricultural business and farming. I’d like to see an official statement from Collins, if there is any at all, about Rue and her brother’s actual race and skin color. Has she said yet what is official/canon?

  • Jsmith0552

    Well, you can probably mark this all down to an author just too happy to be looking at the revenue a successful movie can bring a writer.  She clearly doesn’t care how Hollywood is handling the production of this film.  I’ve long given up on Hollywood in any big way ever giving people of color a chance to be the heroic center of SF or fantasy films.  Heck it can’t even let p.o.c. be the main protagonist of historical dramas in which they would have been had they not been p.o.c.  Nope it just isn’t going to happen unless p.o.c. with money start speculating and buying the rights to books, or better yet creating new roles and producing it themselves.

  • Moreno Zuli

    So this story takes place in Seam where the people are described to be of olive skin and dark straight black hair. Any latinos cast as of yet? Didn’t think so. Guess they’ll be dying everyone’s hair for this one. As a latina actress I find daily breakdowns extremely frustrating. The breakdown for casting of my most recent of favorite reads is down right depressing for a struggling actor of color when the role is for someone of a darker shade but explicitly states CAUCASIAN. How light does my hair have to be and how long do I have to stay out of the sun for me to be able to pass for a caucasian and sneak my way into a major audition. I played a cleaning lady yesterday btw for an industrial. I could cry over this because this trend puts a huge wall between myself and my goals.

  • Jwjessie

    Why are white people always considered the same race.  I mean I have a Manx blue eyed blond haired granfather, a freckly flaming red haired scottish green eyed grandma, a dark skinned black haired brown eyed polish gandmother, and a hazeled eyed brown hair medium skinned new zeland grandpa.  My family comes from four different countries with three different languages, four different eye and hair colours.  I have black hair Olive skin and light greyish blue eyes yet if I was cast in the role of Katniss it would still be considred white washing even though in my opinion I have a very mixed ethnicity.  I understand that there really is a shortage of roles cast to certain ethnicities but some of the comments here seem quite rude.

    • http://www.racebending.com Marissa Lee

      That’s a really good question that goes back to the history of race and racism in the United States and the concept of differential racialization. Different groups have been considered or not considered white (eg. Irish, Catholics) in the United States depending on how the majority wishes to consolidate power.

      • http://twitter.com/stonemirror David Schlesinger

        Jewish people actually only got to be “white” in the United States around the late 1930s or so.

        • http://www.racebending.com Marissa Lee

          And even so this only includes some of the people who identify as Jewish (many people of Mizrahi descent are differentially racialized), not to mention the intersectionality between religion, race, and privilege.

  • hunger games reader

    I feel like the Hunger Games crew that specifically asked for Caucasian actors really dropped the ball here. Do they not realize that up to a quarter of American kids, teens, and young adults are actually PEOPLE OF COLOR? People that want to see other POC on the big screen? They worked hard to dye Hutcherson’s hair bright blond, but they didn’t even get the correct hair colors for Katniss or Gale. Straight black hair is not the same as wavy medium brown hair and sandy blond hair. They couldn’t have found mixed Asian or Latino actors for Katniss and Gale? Really? It would have meant a lot to us. Anyway, thanks for Hutcherson – he’s adorable. 
    And as for Ms. Suzanne Collins, she contradicted herself like 5 times. First she’s like “they’re not biracial” and then she’s like “they’re mixed ethnicities” and then she says Rue and Thresh are AA. Which is it? Did the black people not mix it up over the centuries? All stayed in their District 11 pickin’ cotton with the other black folks? I dunno if she just didn’t think about the racial undertones in her novels or thought it didn’t matter. Love how white people are always like “we’re all the same, race doesn’t matter, blah blah blahhhh.” It doesn’t matter to you because you go through life with white privilege. And no, dyeing a white person’s hair black doesn’t make them a POC. 

    • El DiabloGirl

      EXACTLY. I find the implication that so-called black people (Black Americans) would be a perfectly preserved ethnic group given Collins’ set up just plain old weird. Explain how that would happen. And the hair dye and makeup comment : I …no, not so much.

  • Venom

    Having now seen this, those two characters are textbook Magic Negro. They literally come out of nowhere to help the white hero and serve no other purpose than that.

    • Anonymous

       You don’t seem to know what a “Magic Negro” is as neither Rue nor Thresh fill the definition of that archetype character.

      • Venom

        To my understanding, being supernatural isn’t an absolute requirement.

  • Jon

    Now the Twitter people are saying Amandla Stenberg “ruined” the movie. No, racist idiots ruined it in less than 150 characters.

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  • Soccersara24

    I <3 Josh Hutcherson!!!!!
    I know lots about him and me and my friend would be siked if we saw him!!!!!
    -Sara

  • jasmine wilkins

    omg u people are so much extra nonsense… Who cares what color the actors are… who’s black who’s white, bi-racial people can be anything look black or white or whatever,,, it’s just a movie… i thought it was a great movie period… if you don’t support the choices they make for the movies…. How about not going to see the movie… 

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