Racism and ‘The Hunger Games’: Why Ignorance Won’t Prevail
Shocked by the racist tweets against the black actors of The Hunger Games? You’re not alone. Here’s what the fans have to say about it.
The first time I watched The Hunger Games (and I can assure you, there will be many more times), there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater when little Rue was mercilessly slain. The 12-year-old tribute, a symbol of innocence and love in an inherently corrupt world, was arguably one of the most powerful characters in the entire series. In the film, she was played by a black actress, 13-year-old Amandla Stenberg.
This shouldn’t have been remotely surprising as that is exactly how the book’s author envisioned her. On page 45 of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins describes Rue through the eyes of heroine Katniss Everdeen: “She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that’s she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor.”
Similarly, Dayo Okeniyi, a muscular Nigerian immigrant, scored the role of Thresh, the tribute who spares Katniss’ life at a key moment in the story. Of Thresh, Collins writes, “The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He’s one of the giants, probably six and half feet tall and built like an ox.”
Sadly, even this knowledge didn’t stop a few hateful “fans” from posting extremely hurtful, racist remarks on Twitter. Users plastered their ignorance all over the Internet—but unfortunately for them, the world was watching in such forms as the fan-run Tumblr blog, Hunger Games Tweets.
Some examples of the racist tweets:
One woman wrote that Rue being portrayed by a black actress “kinda ruined the movie.”
A blonde teen was spotted telling the casting director to “#SticktothebookDUDE.”
One man horrifically—and apparently without any sense of proper spelling or punctuation—wrote, “Sense [sic] when has Rue been a n****r.”
But don’t hop on the first train to the Capitol (because what the heck is going on in this world?!) just yet. Because while this flood of prejudiced tweets proves that racism is alive and kicking in this country, it is far from winning the Games.
In an unprecedented show of support, women’s organizations, bloggers, and true fans just like you and me came together to defend Stenberg, Okeniyi, and Lenny Kravtiz, who plays Cinna. In response to the hateful tweets, a massive outpouring of support for the black Hunger Games actors can be seen all over Twitter and the Internet at large.
A teen girl replied, “Racism doesn’t belong in the world OR the hunger games fandom. Amandla and Lenny were perfect for their roles and just as I imagined them.”
“I HATE RACISM!!” a young male user lamented.
A girl named Natalie asked, “Is this real?! Feel naive, duped believing the world is progressing.”
“I want this beautiful talented actress to blow up like crazy in her years to come,” one of Stenberg’s many followers on Twitter wrote. Happily, with more than 30,000 followers, it seems that won’t prove difficult for this up-and-coming talent.
The Women’s Media Center even tweeted in support of the black actors, retweeting a post from the website Feministing along with the message, “Racist Hunger Games fans illustrate all that is wrong in the world.”
And there are hundreds more from where these came from. If you head over to publications like Jezebel, US Weekly, Forbes, BuzzFeed, and the Huffington Post, you’ll see countless writers fearlessly tackling the subject of Hunger Games racism head on.
But in spite of this strong show of support, it would be foolish to claim that racism is dead and equality reigns. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 71 percent of those living in poverty in the United States are black or Hispanic. In addition, the Huffington Post recently released a report detailing a climb in unemployment rates for blacks and Latinos as a whole. Most shockingly, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights reported that in 2007, 34 percent of all hate crimes committed in the United States were against African Americans, who make up approximately 12 percent of the population. Notably, this statistic has shown no signs of improvement over the past 10 years. And of course, all eyes are on the terrible tragedy of young Trayvon Martin as we wait to see if justice will prevail.
But if the reaction against these racist tweets is any indication, many of us have been inspired to stand up to ignorance and hatred… and maybe even to start reading. Twitter user Luis Bordon, for example, wrote, “Man f all this racism crap. Hunger games was like that. Now I have to read the book.” Please do, Luis!
It is absolutely reprehensible that a little girl has had to face racially-charged slurs. It is crushing to discover that some of us need a lesson or two in reading comprehension and respect for fellow human beings. As a fan, I was devastated to find that so many individuals out there have completely disregarded Collins’ powerful message of hope and truth and courage to focus on the color of a girl’s skin. But even so, I can’t help but feel that the sparks of change in a society where minorities are still oppressed might just be growing brighter, thanks to the enormous show of support for Stenberg, Okeniyi, and Kravitz.
Hunger Games fans, I leave you with this: If the 16-year-old “Girl on Fire” could stand up to widespread Capitol oppression, we can all do our part to ensure that something good comes out of this heartbreaking moment. Now is the time to take the odds out of racism’s favor.
Diana Denza is a regular contributor to BettyConfidential.