I’ve just come home from watching popular film of the week The Hunger Games with a sour taste in my mouth and an angry grumbling motion vibrating through my intestines. It seems as though the white-washing of Hunger Games protagonist Katniss has given me yet another case of racial indigestion. In fact, I’m currently cursing myself for being hopeful in thinking that some satisfaction could be had with regards to how people of colour are represented in our popular media.
Can you blame me though?
Every time I hear that a big shot film depicting some form of oppression or discrimination is coming out, I get excited. I get excited because I start hoping that there’s been some equitable representation of people of colour in these movies. I get so excited that I start hoping with all my might that some representational justice will be done to the racialized character(s) and that they won’t be doomed to forever remain as the one-dimensional support system to the main, typically white protagonist. I start hoping that maybe, just maybe the character(s) of colour will finally be presented as full, complex human beings.
CC: The following is an excerpt from the article.
“Recently, Hollywood has come under some serious accusations of whitewashing. And not the kind of whitewashing that Tom Sawyer tricks others into doing for him.
For those unfamiliar with the term, “whitewashing” is the process of casting white Caucasian actors in roles that usually call for a different race.
In a recent example, the titular role in Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Prince of Persia” movie was not given to an Iranian actor. Which is confusing, because the nation of Iran is where the kingdom of Persia was in ancient times. Indeed, the role was not even given to someone of Middle Eastern descent at all.
It was given to Jake Gyllenhaal, a brown-haired, blue-eyed American of decidedly Swedish and Jewish descent. In a worse move, the reason for his different skin tone was shoehorned into a shoddy plot device. Sadly, the movie also failed to account for the female lead’s milky white skin in a desert nation. Perhaps the writers ran out of ideas and simply gave up.”
“I’m going to take it a step farther, beyond even the absurdly over-elaborate Games as a means of intimidating the Districts into “cooperation” with the Panem dictatorship, and say that Collins’s D12 starvation-lite isn’t only a lazy lack of research and/or a rejection of the researched realities of starvation because of it not fitting with a plot dynamic, it becomes downright offensive in combination with Katniss’s whitewashing. The kind of starvation implied in the books– abandoned children dead in the streets, people not helping near-dead children when they have food, because they have to look out for themselves, and this being an ingrained enough status quo that when/if said children survive, that’s considered normal and acceptable behavior– is the kind of thing that actually goes on in police states and cultural revolutions all the time. I know that for me at least, this particularly struck a chord with the timing of THG’s release, since US President Barack Obama just visited North Korea, regarding a pact where the States provides food aid in exchange for weapons restrictions; and if you’ve read, heard, or seen anything of conditions in North Korea, and North Korean refugees’ stories of their escape and survival, the so-called “Hunger Games” look like a walk in the park.”
Whitewashing isn’t just wrong because it’s inaccurate, because it upsets the numbers game, or because it dulls the reader’s appreciation of diversity, although it is all of those things. Most importantly, whitewashing is wrong because it hurts real people. Because people have always looked to art to show them their potential but some people don’t see themselves there.
Because now it doesn’t matter what Collins wrote, when people read The Hunger Games they will see Jennifer Lawrence’s face. Katniss used to have an “olive-skinned” face, but now she has a White one. She was stolen away from the people who needed her most.
This isn’t just an academic exercise. This isn’t just numbers on a spreadsheet, although I’m sure money is how Ross justifies the race-exclusive casting call. This is saying to people of color, “It doesn’t matter how little you have, just a few ambiguous words on a page, or how long you can make them last - we can take them back whenever we want.”
*clicky the link & read the article first, if you would* (Lmao at the girl who wrote “stop moaning” the second I published this, without having had time to read either the article or my post. You, my dear, are yet another reason this post begged me to write it.)
The whitewashing is not just an issue of “it doesn’t match the book” or “hey, that’s Hollywood/creative license.” The casting of Jennifer Lawrence was a huge misstep as it defeats the whole tone and purpose and back story. (And as the film does not give us back story, the physical appearance of Katniss and Gale, in contrast to Peeta, would have been a perfect place to use the “show not tell” method of storytelling that this tale calls for.)
Lest anyone think I have a problem with her acting, let me relate this:
On tumblr the other day I saw a post saying something to the effect of, “it’ll be nice for Jennifer Lawrence to get some acting credit for being in a real film instead of just a some B movie no one saw.”
Winter’s Bone was stunning and I was blown away by Lawrence. I watched it before I even heard they were making a Hunger Games movie. And when I heard they were making a Hunger Games movie and she was to play Katniss I shook my head in dismay and I continue to shake it every time I see a moronic statement like that.
Whitewashing, people. It’s a problem. And not one we can overlook or forgive in this case, when dealing with such an important message and so many people watching and entirely missing the point.
I understand that many of you want to ship people and make this fluffy and that’s fine, but we can’t forget that these books are dark, and there are no “winners” in the Games. We aren’t meant to really cheer on Katniss over the “career” tributes. Everyone in that arena is a horribly oppressed tool of a corrupt government. So it’s distressing that both Hollywood and many (but I’m pleased to say not all) fans have turned a blind eye to the dark theme in favor of having fun with a romantic entanglement. :/
And yeah, that’s just the beginning of the problems I have with the film, I will not go into the rest, or my problems with the books themselves, but this casting issue and people saying the casting was flawless, it’s really, really bothering me. I had to get it out. Hopefully some of you will read the article and agree with me, just a bit? What the fans demand could, after all, influence how the next two movies are made and the impact they leave on history. And that makes it worth listening to and discussing something you may have overlooked, in my opinion.
Scarlet: Another good article on Katniss’s (and others’) whitewashing in THG
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Bread and Roses Strike, which occurred in 1912 when textile workers struck for dignity, better working conditions, and fair pay. Led by women, most of whom were immigrants, the strike was violently suppressed. Strikers died in the fight for better conditions, a not uncommon occurrence at the time.
In the books, there was an obvious and clear connection to the Bread and Roses Strike; Katniss and Rue are both women of color forced to labor by the state in unsafe conditions, living in poverty while the capitalist upper classes enjoy every possible amenity. They are forced to perform by the state to the death, and when Rue dies, Katniss attempts to give her dignity and humanity through the floral tribute; in return, Rue’s home district gives Katniss bread.
This is beautiful and I never caught it.
So I’m hesitant to quote any more from this article since two paragraphs are already quoted above, but here is one and a half sentences which I love because they basically sum up every problem I had with the film: “However, it lacked some punch. […] the entanglement of class, race, and power was a critical part of the narrative in the novels and it was largely absent in the film.”
Please go read this because the article did an excellent job of addressing these issues without tearing down the movie as a decent adaptation.
Hollywood Whitewashing (Yes, It Really Hurts)
Tomorrow is the release of The Hunger Games and with it come further reminders of Hollywood’s approach to casting and whitewashing of characters. Elyse writes down her feelings (ones that are echoed by many readers) on the issue in her latest post.Lately, whenever roles written for people of color are filled by white actors, there is an outcry, subsequently countered by a surprisingly large group of people who are desperate to deny the systemic racism of Hollywood: the kinds of people who will use words like “post-racial” while defending a white actor being given a role meant for a person of color. Let’s also not forget those who are vocally upset when the tables are turned and a person of color is given a role traditionally played as white. (Most recently, Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor, Angel Coulby as Guinevere in Merlin, and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in the upcoming Elementary). But, if there really isn’t a institution of racism in Hollywood and we’re somehow beyond race as a country, why are people of color still deemed insufficient to tell our own stories?
Read the full post.
“I loved The Hunger Games when I devoured the trilogy in a week (the first book, in a day). As a woman of color (brown, not olive skinned) who grew up in a third world country, the idea of being a revolutionary hero in the world of YA seemed to speak to my childish self. When I found out it was going to be made into a movie, I was so excited to see who would be cast to play my black-haired, olive-skinned heroine. This week, Jezebel reported that Jennifer Lawrence may be cast in the lead: she is most decidedly not the black-haired, olive-skinned woman of color I imagined kicking butt as the Girl on Fire. Jezebel bases its argument that casting should include non-Caucasians on explicit descriptions of characters in the book, and not on the omissions or the overall metaphor that I found to be the most compelling argument for why Katniss is not white. In short, the entire metaphor that runs through the book about oppression, hunger, and excess is meaningless if none of the main characters are people of color.”
(click to read the rest)
Fans of The Hunger Games — the dark and addictive YA trilogy that is the hottest kid-lit read this side of Twilight — have been avidly following casting rumors for the forthcoming film adaptation. But while director Gary Ross initially told Entertainment Weekly that the actress playing resentful revolutionary heroine Katniss Everdeen needn’t be a “star,” now it’s being reported that Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone breakout Jennifer Lawrence is close to snagging the coveted role.
Lawrence is unquestionably a talented actress, widely acknowledged to have the grit to play Katniss. But the process which seems to have led to her selection is problematic in other ways –- in particular, the film’s casting call contained the following criteria: “She should be Caucasian, between ages 15 and 20, who could portray someone ‘underfed but strong,’ and ‘naturally pretty underneath her tomboyishness.’”