Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
Over the past few days casting speculation about Lionsgate/Colorforce’s latest film, The Hunger Games, has kicked into full gear.
It started with a Wall Street Journal article featuring Debra Zane Casting, the casting office in charge of culling through headshots of thousands of potential actresses for the role of Katniss, the novel’s lead heroine. The article by John Jurgensen reported that the casting breakdown distributed by Breakdown Services read that actresses submitting for the role “should be Caucasian, between ages 15 and 20, who could portray someone ‘underfed but strong,’ and ‘naturally pretty underneath her tomboyishness.’”
Fans who have read the novels know that while Katniss has a blonde mother, she takes after her father, whose ethnicity is never clearly stated. Katniss’s “olive skin” and “straight black hair” are physical traits that could be possessed by someone of any ethnicity–including people of mixed ethnicity. Given Katniss’s unspecified ethnicity, fans were confused as to why the casting call specifically targeted only white actors. [Click here for our FAQ on The Hunger Games]
And fans weren’t the only ones to take note. Before Racebending.com could even begin to contemplate a concerted letter writing campaign similar to the one we used to protest The Last Airbender, online entertainment media began reporting about the casting, and many reporters took note about the discrepancy between Katniss’s olive skin and black hair, and the Caucasian casting wording, including references to Airbender.
The Hunger Games Casting Controversy! Looking for White “Underfed” Girls
“If you’ve read the books, Katniss is described as having dark hair, olive skin, with gray eyes. True, when we read it we imagined the character to probably be Caucasian, but don’t you think some of it was purposefully left open to interpretation? …We say let’s look outside of the Hollywood cookie cutter box!”
Jennifer Lawrence May Be Up For Hunger Games Lead, But There’s Controversy Too
“First of all: Caucasian? Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins is careful to write Katniss as being of ambiguous ethnicity, with straight dark hair, olive skin and gray eyes– basically, she could be from any race. It’s not really a surprise that they’d want to cast a white girl in the role, given the myopic way Hollywood views race and who sells tickets, but kind of shocking that they’d completely exclude auditioners of other races.”
Let’s Cast The Hunger Games! Who Should Play Katniss Everdeen?
“Yesterday, we simply suggested that maybe the casting for Katniss Everdeen, the arrow-packin’ teen female lead, shouldn’t just be between somebody white or…white.”
Oh No They Didn’t: The Hunger Games Casting for ‘Underfed’ White Teenage Girls
“The question isn’t, ‘Is Katniss white?’ but ‘Could Katniss possibly be anything other than white?’ In casting only for Caucasian performers, the filmmakers seem to close the door on that possibility.
“But as in the racebending issue surrounding last year’s Avatar: The Last Airbender (a controversy unlikely to continue unless sequels follow, which they won’t), is that move warranted by the material or simply another case of Hollywood whitewashing? There aren’t many good reasons for excluding non-white performers from consideration based on Collins’ books and characters, aside from the desire to appeal to the dominant paradigm in the film’s marketing materials. If Collins is on board with this and has any argument in favor of the casting move, she should start explaining.”
“I’m sad that the casting breakdowns are specifically looking for a Caucasian actress. (They’re not even using the weaselly “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” formulation.) I was one of the many fans who hoped that the books’ description of Katniss’s “straight black hair” and “olive skin” might open the doors for a non-white actress—a move that would have gone a long way toward appeasing those aggrieved parties who recently slapped would-be blockbusters The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia with charges of whitewashing.
“The Hunger Games are a major, missed opportunity for more diverse casting. Like the Harry Potter films before them, this franchise has a massive, built-in audience….I’m sure that, as in Airbender, many of the smaller, supporting roles will be cast with ethnic actors. Hunger Games will have its Cho Changs and Padma and Parvati Patils scampering about the margins of its deadly, Hieronymous Bosch-like arenas. But would it be too much to ask for a Katniss in color?”
Hunger Games Casting Controversy: Underfed Actress Wanted?
“We understand wanting to get a role as close to the description in the novel as possible, only problem is… the book doesn’t give that detailed or type of description of the young woman.
“Debate over the ethnicity of Katniss has been raging for a while now – Collins’ describes Katniss as having dark hair, olive skin, and gray eyes, so some readers assumed her to be aisan, latin or of mixed decent.”
“Hunger Games” Looking at Lawrence, Steinfeld or Breslin
“In the book, the first of a trilogy (hello, franchise!) Everdeen is described as having olive skin, dark hair, and gray eyes. And yet, the casting notice for the role says the actress “should be Caucasian…”
“…Look, Lawrence, Steinfeld and Breslin are all fine actresses, each with an Oscar nomination on her resume, but isn’t it about time Hollywood stops whitening everything? Haven’t we learned anything from The Last Airbender?”
The Hunger Games Looking to Cast Starving Teenagers
“In the books, Katniss is described as having olive skin, dark hair, and gray eyes: Fans have speculated that the part could be played by someone who’s not white. Apparently, the moviemakers do not feel the same.”
The Imminent Whitewashing Of The Hunger Games’ Heroine
“Collins’ allusions to race aren’t exactly subtle, and the filmmakers apparent decision to ignore this aspect of the novel has led some fans to make an inarguable point: given Katniss’s description in the book, why wasn’t the casting call open to actresses of color or mixed ethnicity??”
The Hunger Games Movie Gets Off on the Wrong, Underfed Foot
“…The casting call is practically begging for teenage girls to starve themselves. And the call for Caucasians is troubling, too…the books never say what ethnicity Katniss is—she’s olive-skinned and dark-haired—but to specifically request Caucasians seems to reject a whole bunch of options before they’ve even been considered.”
Questions have also been raised about whether Rue, one of the characters Katniss meets during the Hunger Games, will be cast with a black actress or not. From way back in October 2010…
‘Hunger Games’: Is Rue black? And should race matter when you’re casting the movie?
“How important is it that Rue be played by an African American actress?…it feels like there should be some color in this movie, if only to avoid something like the color-bleached Last Airbender or the caucasiafied Earthsea… Would you be offended if they didn’t cast a black actress for Rue? Doesn’t bigscreen sci-fi/fantasy just need more non-white actors on principle?”
We will definitely be following up on fans concerns about The Hunger Games. As we learned in from The Last Airbender and Runaways, sometimes casting language isn’t carefully vetted, which can consequently block opportunities for actors of color. (Intentional? Unintentional? Depends on who you ask.) With the “Caucasian” casting language, barriers have already been erected, preventing multiethnic actors and actors of color from having equal access to the role.
We hope the production will take active steps to tear down those barriers, and give non-white actors equal consideration for the role of Katniss and other characters!