Disturbed by Prejudice: Hunger Games, Writing and Public Perception

I’m not gonna lie.  I’m extremely disturbed.  First the bullying in our schools, the homophobia with the Clementi/Ravi case and now, the outcry over casting decisions for Hunger Games.

If you haven’t heard, the scuttlebutt is that some people are downright angry that several key characters in the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel were…not quite what they pictured.

Namely, and I quote: “why did the producer make all the good characters black smh” and “why is Rue a little black girl?”

Um, because she was in the book.  And even if she hadn’t been, what difference does it make?  Rue is an innocent, sweet child who was thrust into the games as cruelly as all the other kids.  Her death was tragic–on the page and on the screen.

Not all agree with me.  In fact, one such tweeter admitted that Rue’s skin color on the big screen ruined the movie for her.

Another took it one step further: “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad”

Okay, I’ll bite.  That is extremely racist.  And seriously messed up.  A young child’s death isn’t sad because her skin is darker than yours?  This sentiment hearkens back to the day of Nazi Germany.  It echoes the hatred heaped on the Irish in America’s early days.  It encompasses the sheer viciousness of our planet’s history.  It is a sad commentary on just how un-evolved human beings really are.

I’m not gonna lie, people’s ignorant, undereducated and outdated beliefs creep me out.

I think this is why my younger juvenile lit is full of bullies.  I like to tackle the issue of fitting in.  I like to empower my characters and encourage them to take control of their destinies by believing in themselves and not abiding by the labels provided to them by others–ignorant, undereducated and outdated others.

By doing so, I hope to empower and encourage kids to come out stronger, smarter and less likely to spread hate and prejudice themselves.  We need to break the cycle of bullying in our society–by kids and by the adults who should know better.

I applaud Ms. Collins for the beautiful portrayal of her characters.  I applaud the casting decisions and am thrilled that the Hunger Games movie was not white-washed.  Because, guess what?  We are only as good or as bad as our behavior.  And bad behavior knows no skin color.

On days like this, I’m embarrassed to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed.  I don’t want to be judged by the color of my skin.  Because, honestly, I am the sum total of what I’ve done, what I believe and what I feel.  Not what I look like.

I’m too disturbed to ask any questions, so please feel free to share your thoughts on the topic.  Any tips you have on how writers can help perpetuate acceptance rather than intolerance would be greatly appreciated.

To read more about this, hop on over to the post Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Very Disappointed.


14 responses to “Disturbed by Prejudice: Hunger Games, Writing and Public Perception

  1. I was sickened and really scared by that article. Especially since the whole point of The Hunger Games is that it’s wrong to be cruel to someone just necause they’re from somewhere different and people tell you it’s okay.

    Having seen the movie, the casting of Rue was perfect, regardless of skin colour. She was cute, and a little badass, and good lord did I cry.

    I think the best way to spread acceptance is to write more and more stories where a person’s skin colour, or sexual preference, or any other aspect, is treated as something normal and everyday.

    • Thanks for this heartfelt comment. It is terrifying to realize that such feelings of superiority are alive and well today.

      Like you, I cried in the movie. Despite reading the book seven times (and sobbing through Rue’s death every one of those seven times, the savage beauty and visceral anger that I felt over the loss of such an innocent life and the way Katniss dealt with it made me cry yet again.

      I always knew great literature had immense power. I just never expected for a second that HG would evoke an issue of race and superiority.

      I will try my best to write with an eye for character, as I believe every person deserves the right to see him/herself cast in the hero role.


  2. Where did you hear this “scuttlebutt?” Twitter? Someplace where people speak anonymously? See, there’s the problem. Anonymity is a free pass for the imbecile to come out.

    And what’s your take on the ages of these idiots? I’m beginning to think all these years of sensitivity training are completely lost on todays yoots.

    • Yes, Pete, some of it was on Twitter. However, where and who said it isn’t the issue, as far as I’m concerned. The fact that it was ever said at all does.

      As to the age group of HG readers: I know an 80 year old man who read the book. That alone should say something.

      I agree with you on one level. Anonymity does create a sense of security and allows such things to be aired, although I would beg that people with this attitude don’t have a problem with airing their beliefs in public anyways.

      Where’s the crabby face emoticon when I need one?

  3. No Pete, unfortunately I don’t think it’s all been MG and YA age-range comments that have reflected ignorance. HG has cut across wide audiences, and of course, so does idiocy.

  4. So….the characters in the Hunger Games are not all described as white. On the contrary, Katniss herself is supposed to have “olive” skin, if I remember correctly.

    I’m disgusted by those sorts of comments. People are people. No more, no less. It’s actions that diminish an individual, not something as simple as skin color or birthplace.

    I read today that the movie on Bullying is going to be released without a rating, now. I wonder if that’s worse or better than the R that parents were protesting.

    • Ooooh, missed that scuttlebutt. Please provide a link.

      I’m always leary of non-rated movies, even as some of the ratings I’ve seen lately fail to protect the innocence of the kids the ratings were put into place for. What used to be a strong R is now PG13. I fear for the exposure that our youth gets on a daily basis.

      I love this line: “It’s actions that diminish an individual, not something as simple as skin color or birthplace.”

      I think we could add a whole host of other descriptors to include every group of individuals unfairly discriminated against. Sadly, it would be a long list.

      Thanks for your wonderful commentary.

      • http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-03/D9TORO9G0.htm is a link to the release of “Bully” unrated, not R as the MPAA wanted it to be (for language, I think)

        It is true, every group of people alive has at least one thing that they might be discriminated against for. Instead of thinking of our commonalities, we push each other away.

      • Thanks for the link. Our local radio station was talking about it the other day. I can’t wait to take my kids to it. I think it will open up some great conversation all the way around.

        Sadly, it’s not like our kids don’t already hear these words on the playground, in the lunch room or on the school bus. I think it’s a bit unfair to censor the words because bullying is not just physical. Often times, it’s the verbal aspect of it that hurts the most. Certain words cut to the core. That’s why they are used.

        Thanks again for this snippet, along with your wonderful insight into how we are really creating divides between individuals and groups of people.

  5. I’ve always defaulted to white characters in my own books (because it’s what I know, so it happens without me consciously making a decision, and also because I’m scared of doing it wrong and causing offence if I try writing people of colour).
    But a few things I’ve read recently make me think actually I should try, even if I don’t get it quite right, if only because I don’t want to give racists like that the opportunity to read my books and be happy because all the important characters are white.
    Still scared of getting it wrong, though!

    • Imogen,

      Thanks for commenting. I agree with you 100%. We write what we know. We’ve been taught the mantra “write what you know”, so when it comes time to breaking out of the most basic knowledge we have, it can be terrifying. Especially if we are concerned with misrepresenting someone in a way that is damaging. The only answer for that is research.

      Research the culture, the reasons behind the culture and the people who live the culture. Talk with people within the group you want to write about and ask them to help you keep your manuscript true to your story as well as to their lifestyle.

      I think it’s admirable to want to create everyday main characters who are not white-washed (and by this, I mean any type of non-mainstream group), as long as we keep the story about the plot and not about the non-mainstream issue, whether it’s race, disability, sexual orientation or any number of other divided ideals.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts on this. And best luck if you decide to pursue a little MC shake up. If more of us did it, all characters and their varying traits would become mainstream.


  6. There was a big story on MSN about this. Apparently those Twitter accounts have gotten so much hate mail that almost all of them have been shut down.

    I love that Collins kept the physical descriptions to a minimum in her book. While I was reading HG for the first time, I was really able to let my imagination run wild. I imagined Rue as black, and Katniss as quasi-Italian in appearance–but their actions are what captured my interest, not their skin color.

    I always feel so dispirited when I hear or read blatant racism…it makes me wonder about our culture, our collective values. I wish there was an easy cure for the hatred and cruelty in people’s hearts.

    • AM,

      I loved the sparse physical descriptions in the book, as well. It really allowed me to focus on the characters–which were amazing and robust. There was no need–ever–for her to describe ad nauseum physical details to make me connect to the corrects. Ms. Collins’ writing style alone did that for me.

      If you ever find the cure, let me know. Nothing is more heart breaking than the constant divide that seems to be growing, not diminishing. I firmly believe in acceptance, not tolerance. At the very least, repsect. If everyone could just dig deep enough to find an ounce of respect and decency for their fellow humans in general, the world would be a better place.

      But, people persecute what they fear or don’t understand. Sadly, we appear to be an undereducated world where our fellow peeps are concerned.

      Hugs and thanks for the comment. It’s nice to know that the Tweeters aren’t getting away with bad behavior.

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