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!