April 3, 2012

The Hunger Games & Racism

The Hunger Games opened a few weeks ago and quickly took the title as the third-highest grossing film of all time, a feat only reached by the titan forces of  Harry Potter & Bat-Man.  For the first novel of an author to have this magnitude of a cinematic impact is astonishing.  I mean, both the Harry Potter and Bat-Man franchises have been around for years and years, and only their last ventures out have made more money than the Hunger Games thus far.

If you haven't read the book or the series, I suggest you do so.  The Hunger Games Trilogy tells a controversial story featuring oppressive governments, famine, child-soldiering and fights to the death (which only involve children from ages 12 to 18).  I'm well aware of the people out there who are 'too cool' to read the books.  You know who you are; the ones who haven't read the books but spit snark and sarcasm at those who have.  This series of books has become a pop culture phenomenon.  Whether you like, or agree with, the themes and messages that lie within the story, you have to admit that the story makes you think...makes you feel.  In my opinion, that's a sign of a fantastic author.  It's a great thing when one becomes emotionally invested in a story and it's characters.

I do realize that there has been a significant scattering of opinions about the books and movie.  From whether the book is better than the movie or the movie is better than the novel, to the casting decisions, sets, things in the book that were different than the movie, etc. - everyone has an opinion.  One thing I was not expecting to read about (naively, I guess) was the issue of race.  I am of the belief that no one color or ethnicity is better than the other.  It is never okay to base judgement or behavior on what color someone's skin is.

I was horrified, and fascinated, to read about the moviegoers who have expressed revulsion, confusion, hate and disappointment due to the races of the actors playing certain characters.  If you aren't familiar with the series, the characters of Rue, Thresh and Cinna were played by black actors.   In the books, both Rue and Thresh were described as having dark brown skin.   I can't remember if Cinna's skin color was noted.  I do know that the character had green eyes with golden flecks and cropped brown hair. It is never said what shade of brown hair, so in actuality, it could have been any shade and Cinna could be of any ethnicity. 

When the initial cast was announced, and most recently, when the movie debuted, explosions of opinions have flooded the Twitterverse.  The Hunger Games Tweets Tumblr published many of these tweets for the world to see.  Reactions range from "I can't believe they made Rue/Cinna/Thresh black", to people saying they were less sad when a black character died, to comments involving the n-word, and even those who said that the casting of a black character somehow ruined the film.  The tweets below are just a few examples, unedited and non spell-checked.

Most of these accounts have since been either closed or set to private.  Tweets and comments like these have gone viral.  Memes have been created!  For example, people have been publishing variations of @maggie_mcd11's "not gonna lie" meme on Reddit, among other places.

Reading comprehension plays a big part in this debacle.  As stated before, two characters were described as being dark skinned.  I even read a tweet that said "Saying 'dark brown skin' doesn't have to mean they're black - they're just really tan from working in the District 11 fields".  Really?  Someone is so unable to comprehend that a character is black that they must resort to coming up with a soothing explanation in their head?  I don't understand why it's so hard for some to rationalize a black character being in this novel.  Those people who feel so 'let down' obviously didn't even bother to read the books thoroughly enough; because if they had, they would have been aware of the character descriptions.  

I do respect those who speak out against this ignorance.  Whether it be someone like @joshacagan using humor with his Donald Trump reference or someone such as @georgetakei who deployed logic in his comment to make people think about their derailed sense of what is more important.

Racialicious published a post in November 2011 called "Yes, There Are Black People In Your Hunger Games," not long after posters for the movie were released.  Some fans were upset even then that the actors cast didn't reflect their personal perceptions of the characters they thought should be white.  The site published threads from The Hunger Games Facebook page with parallel themes of bewilderment; some upset over the presence of black actors in roles in which the characters were described as having dark skin.

Let's think about this from a difference perspective.  Screenwriters, directors and producers change characters and scenes all the time.  Devoted fans always sniff out when something has been changed or left out.  (Winky from Happy Potter, anyone?) Some out there would have been perturbed if a person of a different ethnicity had been cast for Rue, Thresh or Cinna, because it wouldn't be true Suzanne Collins' character descriptions in the book.  I applaud the makers of this film for staying as true as possible to character descriptions. 

I find hope in a few of the comments on both the Hunger Games Facebook & Tumbler pages.  There are people out there who are just as distressed and shocked as I am by the racially charged comments.  The mental "white washing" in our society is disconcerting.  With widespread access to the internet these days, racism is easily broadcast.  I wish I lived in a world where no person considers themselves 'better' than another because of their skin color.  A simple scan of controversial topics on pretty much any type of news article will erase any idea that racism is a thing of the past.  

I don't believe we should shy away from challenging racism, not even those comments that are blown off as ignorance or confusion.  It's easy to sit back and be unaware of things when you don't make yourself available to be exposed to them.  Not too long ago, it was illegal for a white person to socialize, sit in the same area, date or be married to a black person.  Yes, strides have been made, but strides still need to be made if there is to be racial harmony.  As a white woman living in the South, I see on a daily basis how racism is still alive.  I come from parents who are fairly racist, but that does NOT mean that I have to be.  Come on, people!  Just because you were raised to believe something, doesn't mean that you have to, or that you should.  You have your own opinion, your own thoughts....use them.

Given what era we live in, it has never been easier to debate or share views.  At any given moment, with a click or two of a keyboard, lies the opportunity to be exposed to racism, cruelty, meanness, bigotry, unfair oppression and just plain, unadulterated hate.  No one is powerless to change what is wrong in the world.  Respond to it, not with more hate and more meanness, but with a positive view or a different opinion.  There is no need to "stoop down" to a name calling, snarky or rude level.  Simply note that there are other ways to live than with hate.  Since we are in the "Media Age", do something with it.  Type a blog post, post a Tumblr picture or comment, send a Tweet or an email.  Here's a novel idea - have a person to person conversation!  Maybe you can make a difference, or at the very least, lend a little insight. 

Only people who feed on hate enjoy reading or creating posts that are sure to outrage.  I sometimes think about how far we still need to go as a society.  Don't sit and pretend that everything is hunky dory when it isn't.  Speak up when someone or something is being treated unfairly.  I can't say that my words are always met with kindness or understanding, but at least I try.

I welcome your opinion.  What do you think?