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Media Takes Note of “The Hunger Games” Casting

March 4, 2011

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!”

-E!Online

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.

-CinemaBlend

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.

-E!Online

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.”

-Movieline

Casting Katniss

“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?

-Slate

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.”

-Reel Movie News

“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?”

-NBC Chicago

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.

-New York Magazine

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??”

-Jezebel, io9 and ohnotheydidn’t

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.”

-The Stranger

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?”

-Entertainment Weekly

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!

Categories: blog, Featured, 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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  • http://Website Roxie

    I believe Katniss could definitely or most likely is of mixed ethnicity.
    Rue, however, is black and is described as such.

  • http://Website Steve

    I’m very glad that major media outlets are buzzing about this. I remember how long it took for the media to really catch on to the “Last Airbender” fiasco. We’ve come a long way, and I’m proud of that.

  • http://www.meetup.com/indyanimeunderground Gabe Canada

    Is it slightly more poigniant that this potential racefail/bend comes from a company called colorforce?

  • http://Website Rachel

    I’m glad that tons of media outlets are taking notice. Hopefully the casting company will listen and actually change their language.

  • http://Website Uhhh…

    I think they only cast for CAUCASIAN ACTOR because of this picture! They should read the book instead of looking at the picture.
    http://inkpop.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/katniss_1280x800.jpg

  • http://londonrakehell.blogspot.com/ London Hellraker

    I read somewhere that the latino-americans statistically bought more tickets to the box office in 2009. Especially female Latino-Americans. The white male executives ignore that at the peril for their bottom line.

  • twilightsagareader

    I had no idea of any of this. Suzanne Collins might be an outstanding writer but she is obviously working with Lionsgate now and her words are not to trust.

    • ashleyjordan

      You cannot just do that to someone-discredit their reputation or solidify their agenda based on a Hollywood typecasting that the author may or may not have had control over. Secondly, the ethnicity of Katniss is rather vague, it could fall between any race so it also is unfair to state that she would not have been a Caucasian girl with slightly tanned skin. Its a possibility. In addition, her light grey eyes support a European connection more than a Hispanic one but that is still debatable for there are lighter DNA traits in some parts of South America. Unfortunately, although it is unfair, there is such a thing as typecasting. I wish they had offered the audition to anyone yet apparently the studio did sincerely believe that Katniss suited a particular type, despite if we think that is a legitimate reason or not. Whatever the reason, please do not jump on a hateful wagon to bash the author who for all we know, may have seen Katniss exactly as she is the entire time.

      • happyappa

        Isn’t it amazing the lengths people go to, to justify whitewashing.

  • slkjdf

    oh get over it. So they wanted Katness to be Caucasian, who cares! No one is being racist… If they called for someone to be African American, or Indan no Caucasian person would have thrown a fit. Thats just how they want it

  • Alana

    @chalupatime As we speak Whites are becoming minority around North America. Racial mixing is what the experts forsee for the future.

  • Liz_collins

       First of all, People get mixed up between olive and golden skin. Olive skin is medium tone skin with a yellow and/or pinkish tint. Although, I do recall Katniss saying her skin was pale at some point in the book. But it was never specified what tone of olive her skin is.

      Secondly, I don’t think she has Latino ethnicity in her. It is very well possible that she does but I doubt it. Most Latinos have skin that is darker than an olive tone. I don’t know possibly  she is a mix of an Irish/ Italian, or some thing like that.
       Look, Suzanne Collins wrote the book i thinks It’s for her to chose.  

       
        

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  • Amy

    I am a Hispanic woman with olive skin and black hair. When I am reading the book I imagine Katniss looks like Jennifer Lopez or Salma Hayek. Katniss looks like her dad. She has olive skin with black hair. Prim looks blonde like her mother.

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  • Alana

    Olive skin, straight black hair, grey eyes. I kind of imagined her to be middle eastern decent.

  • Casandra Lopez

    I HATE it when they cast all-white people and throw in those few black people to make it seem like they’re “not” racist.

    Katniss was suppossed to have olive skin, not dark brown or golden tone. A yellowish, tan, brownish color like some women of Mexican, Latin American, or Spanish decent. OPEN your eyes people. HOLLYWOOD is RACIST. They have been for years and they will continue to be until people protest against this unequality.

    Guess who’s casting only caucasian actors. CAUCASIAN casting directors. It’s a circle of connectons to white people, cutting out people or other ethnicities.

    If you noticed in the first movie poster, they actually darkened Jennifer’s face. They put tan makeup on her face to make it look like she was darker, but she’s not. She was a WHITE girl playing a BROWN character. That’s brownface like blackface. Whitewashing. See…

    The 2nd picture is what Jennifer really looks like. The 3rd is an american actress with real “olive” skin. Seychelle Gabrielle.Take a look. As you can see, olive skin changes in different lightings, but it’s essentially a brownish color.

    In the book, Katniss described herself as having olive skin. Seychelle has olive skin. APPRECIATE her. CELEBREATE her. SHE is a person with talent AND with brown skin. SHE is an actress who is capable of acting many roles. Hollywood should be looking for talent, not skin color, but when a book calls for a certain look, they should not be so racist as to change it. Katniss was supposed to have her skin color, but no, Hollywood smudged Jennifer’s face with bronser and called her Katniss. This is why I hate Hollywood.

  • Clalor

    Why are you on this website?

  • Cyke

    If this website is overanalyzing this, how and why did so many media outlets actually *beat* this website to the punch in bringing up the controversy first? The Wall Street Journal is by no means a social justice news source — and they were the among the first to point the language of the casting sheet.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jarronnelums Javan Nelums

    this person has his veiws just let him

  • http://twitter.com/IsolaValentine Natalie

    I’m not sure I agree. Tbh I don’t care if Katniss is played by a white girl, I haven’t even read the hunger games but i do take offence at one thing you said:

    “I mean seriously what are you all upset about? That some token hispanic
    of mixed black actresses didn’t get to audition for a role they would
    have zero chance of getting? Do we need a Rooney Rule for Hollywood?”

    Don’t you see the irony in your words? Why should hispanic or mixed race girls have no chance of getting a role that, going by the disscription of the character in the books, they should have every chance of going out for?

    Maybe I’m over reacting but as a mixed race girl myself I find it hurtful that i would be denyed that oppertunity even if Jenifer Lawrence did still get the role in the end.

    It is like the magazine editors who won’t put black models on magazine covers saying they don’t sell as well when in reality they are just not giving the girls a chance.