Rue the Day: Racial Commentary & The Hunger Games.

Suzanne Collins did not write a book about a dystopian society wherein only white people were foregrounded in a plot to overthrow a totalitarian state. In fact, she pretty explicitly states that the characters of Rue and Thresh, tributes from District 11, have “dark skin.” In this future, there is no buying into the social constructions of race (one thing they did right) but that doesn’t mean she was not making a pointed social comment when she made the little girl, so like the sister for whom Katniss volunteered to potentially die for, black.

When i read The Hunger Games for the first time, i saw Rue as a symbol for interracial empowerment and unity in two key ways: the first were the aforementioned parallels between her and Prim and, consequentially, Katniss’ vision of Rue being one of love unblinded by skin color. The second was her tragic, undue, and horrific death; coming from District 11, which we can guess by the general descriptions of weather and distance is meant to be somewhere in the South (Central Florida? Alabama?) this, to me, read as a pointed comment against segregation and racism across America, but most viscerally apparent in the southern US. Rue was a character who functioned to illustrate the horror of the Games, but also was so beautifully crafted in her intelligence and ability to survive that she still very much existed within the realm of Collins’ fleshed-out, human, believable cast.

Furthermore, i actually always pictured Katniss as being a woman of mixed race/color herself. While i love Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss (and, let us remember, not all racial backgrounds are immediately apparent because race is socially constructed) i had always inferred by Collins’ description of Katniss being a woman of “olive skin” and dark hair that she was a woman of some American Indian ancestry. When she was initially cast, i was a little bit disappointed. However, her performance, as i mentioned earlier today, was so stellar she was such a natural choice for the role.

In fact, if you look closely at the demographic breakdown of the residents of District 12, you’ll notice all the people of more privilege are described as being “fair.” Peeta, who comes from one of the town dwellers, has blonde hair and a pale complexion, much like Katniss’ mother who was a woman of more status prior to marrying Katniss’ dark-haired father. For these loose (but pointed) allusions to a potentially racially-driven class divide that Collins was using to deepen the commentary. While i was sad to, in some way, lose this with Lawrence’s casting, i recognize that Collins was instrumental in choosing her and that the references to Katniss as at least partially American Indian are, after all, very scant. And, may i reiterate: Lawrence herself could very well have American Indian ancestry, because race inherently by its nature of being socially constructed, confines our perception of what “American Indian” or “white” look like in ways that are often not applicable to the masses labeled with such terms.

But still. The point remains: the people who are tweeting that they were “disappointed” that a black girl was cast as Rue is, frankly, disgusting. To express such bigoted and racist views is so contrary to these subtle, poignant commentaries Collins interlaced with her broader statement against consumerism, capitalism, and the military-industrial complex. And clearly, these people didn’t read the books with much care. These tweets and opinions represent everything the Capitol stands for: a place of discrimination, exploitation, and unmitigated privilege at the expense of mass groups of oppressed people. I normally try to stray away from going preach-y on other fans, but the popularity of these horrible, prejudiced views is hurtful, frustrating, and SO NOT THE POINT OF THE STORY COLLINS CRAFTED.

The Hunger Games, at its core, is a book about overcoming adversity in the face of odds that are most certainly not in your favor. A struggle not unlike that faced by all oppressed groups in this country. I think we all do remember this, as fans of the story and as human beings.

current jam: ‘abraham’s daughter’ arcade fire

best thing: the hunger games soundtrack.

*I know this is double-posting in one day, which breaks all conventional blogging rules. But, per request (thanks, Gabs!) and per my own interest in the matter, i wanted to write about this while it was still fresh on my mind. Thanks for sticking with me, friends!

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8 thoughts on “Rue the Day: Racial Commentary & The Hunger Games.

  1. 1. love the current jam
    2. love this post! i like this debate, although this Jezebel post was really horrific and scary, i’m glad it’s bringing up this issue. America sometimes gets too complacent with “race”, despite the fact that racism is implicitly present everywhere

  2. Brilliant, as always.
    I was very disappointed and disgusted by the amount of sheer racism shown by the hundreds or thousands who tweeted on Rue’s ethnicity.
    Great, great analysis. Thank you for posting it up :))xx

  3. Great post. It’s all about life, not color – that’s all I can say, and I am glad I have found this out in my short 23 years – the last few of them, quite unfortunately, but I am still glad – and I hope that others can break from the ignorance and bigotry handed down through generations, and that perhaps “The Hunger Games” can help – I have not seen the movie, or read the book, admittedly, however, I noticed posts concerning racism + Hunger Games and was intrigued – hundreds of horrid tweets later, I feel true sadness and remorse for the human RACE – THE HUMAN RACE, not any of the “colors” of said humans, but for our very existence – and then I see hope that we can fix it, if you, myself, and others are proven to think this way, and propagate these ideals and ideas amongst our people, and apply them – thank you.

    I would like to mention two things here that I have run into in my life that quite poignantly explain the problems – and show the solutions – of racism, hatred, and love, respectively:

    Maniac Magee – I believe this should be a suggested read for everyone of every place on Earth, for what I believe are too many reasons to list here. It may come off as a child’s book (“young adult”) – but perhaps this is a good thing, as it will be easy for younger as well as older readers to understand – do not be put off by its simplistic writing style or its lack of length, for some of the most important words have only been spoken in a single breath, written on a single page, contained within a very thought. These words are powerful, and I truly hope that someday everyone gets a chance to read this book and reap the messages it contains: color is color, life is life, among other important things – as far as I am concerned, ALL important things (and all-important, too) for society to reflect upon and realize, to practice and apply – there are hateful, vitriolic parts of this book, but they only serve to reflect the parts of society that have not yet been enlightened to these concepts – and how they too are troubled, and how we should care about them as well, and do our best to share our love of humanity with them, and our figurative (though admittedly not perfect, and certainly for any person of today’s society, sometimes ineffective – for people of all colors, due to learned behavior or one’s own biases given by external stimuli, observation, and ignorant/incomplete/illogical thinking) “color-blindness” – or aspirations of such, at the very least.

    Gigot – the 50′s, 60′s “silent” (only Gleason/Gigot is silent) movie with Jackie Gleason – say what you want about the man, this movie is beautiful, and so was his performance – packed with raw emotion and a constant reminder to look within the self – and others – for the “human” factor, that being that we all deserve love, life, and laughter – and that when others try to deprive one of those things, for any reason, it simply is amoral, and to simply not care about the plight or happiness of another is amoral, and indeed, hurtful to society – another way to put it is that this movie, plain and simple, without Gleason saying a single word through his performances (another point, perhaps we should all talk less and listen more, even to the words that are unspoken), expresses the trials and victories of humanity – and the people who mistreat him represent the poor, ignorant masses who have learned no better, or are simply those with no care in their heart for another, for whatever reason – the worst sort of person, in a manner of speaking – and yet, Gigot is still able to love (and does), able to care (and does), and often turns the other cheek in response to misgivings from others, and still yet attempts to help all he sees that he believes need help – all the while remaining true to himself, and true to the feelings of others. A powerful, important lesson to learn – and while this does not touch on racism (the movie) overtly, I believe a person with a broad mind will apply the lessons learned from Gigot to all spheres of life, including the current problem our society is dealing with, “racism” – or at least try, as we are not all perfect – but the one who learns from this movie will regardless press on with this mission, to treat life with respect and kindness – and realize his or her own shortcomings on the matter, as everyone does – and do their best to change, to be more like Gigot, and keep this fact in mind: we simply cannot get on in this world without caring for one another, not without someone being hurt – and that in 99.9% of circumstances, NOBODY needs to be hurt or should be hurt by another, mentally OR physically, regardless of their social stature or their “lot in life” – I know that’s how it made me feel – and I hope it does others, too. Hopefully this wasn’t too disjointed – it’s just very important to me, and I happen to be passionate about such things anymore (which I believe is also a good thing).

    I’m sure there are others, as I’m sure if I took some more time I could probably remember some of these that I have seen/read – but these two definitely stand out to me as two of the most important storytelling accomplishments in the history of the art – in the history of man, even.

    I understand that I may see things differently than others, however, it is my hope that my views on these pieces are deemed correct, or at the very least, palatable to others – and that they have helped someone, somewhere in this world reach the same conclusions that I have – racism is bad, and so is not caring for your fellow man – it’s as simple as that – and that if I have succeeded in doing so, I truly have helped society, as it gives these ideas just one more chance to propagate and take root.

    Thank you again, and thank you for allowing posts on your blog.

    I respect you quite a bit, and I feel that we are kindred spirits of sorts – at least on some things – but if absolutely nothing else, we are kindred in the fact that we are both human, regardless of our respective genetic traits that determine how much melanin our skin contains – it is still skin, colored with the very same pigmentation, just in a larger or smaller concentration, and that has no bearing on how “good” or “bad” a person is – you, along with a growing number of people actually REALIZE this and try to spread this view to others, and for this I say: I love you, as I love all my fellow man – FOR your love of your fellow man – and I love your altruistic traits. Please help spread this love to others by continuing to spread your message of awareness on this issue to others – I will be attempting to do the same.

    I hope you have an excellent time in this life, as much so as humanly possible.

    I apologize if my comment was a bit lengthy.

    If you do not mind, I will be checking on your blog every so often – keep writing, if that is what you wish to do, for I find your words to be valuable – as I hope and assert that others surely do, as well.

    • Wow, Steven, thank you for such kind words and recommendations! I read Maniac Magee when i was in elementary school and i remember it leaving a lasting impression on me. Similarly, i read The Secret Life of Bees this past summer and highly regard Toni Morrison’s works (Beloved, especially) as beautiful literary takes on systemic oppression. I look forward to hearing from you on future posts, kindred spirit! :)

  4. One last thing – if, while watching Gigot, for some reason, you find yourself not sobbing at some point during the movie – you must be made of stone – and that isn’t a good thing. Let it out – weep for humanity, and cry out in joy for the fact that as long as people care for each other, humanity does not need to be wept for forever – but I warn you, bring a box of tissues – perhaps, even a handkerchief. It simply is NOT a “smooth ride” for those even a bit “sensitive” at heart – and if you’re the slightest bit empathetic, like I consider myself to be – well, then, you’ve just had it, you’ll bawl like a branded calf almost entirely through the movie.

    I hope. Again, perhaps I see things differently – but put it this way, in 10 minutes or so, I was sobbing uncontrollably, for all the tide of emotion this movie unleashed, that I wasn’t even aware existed within myself – and I hope that it can do the same for others.

    Enough rambling from me – take it easy, admin, and any others who may have stumbled on my (I feel it is) humble comment. Love, live, and laugh – and care for one another.

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