This is Amandla Stenberg:
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who thinks that she’s adorable. I mean, come on. When she appeared in The Hunger Games as Rue, it was all I could do not to squeal, “Aww!”
Which is why I don’t understand why Hunger Games ‘fans’ reacted to her casting or appearance in the movie with comments like “Eww!” or “Wow, her death isn’t sad any more.”
It turns out that there is a vast legion of people who read the Hunger Games and completely skimmed over the description of a Rue with “satiny dark brown skin”, who comes from a district based on agriculture where workers are treated harshly and sing songs to keep their spirits up. Parallel, anyone?
Maybe they missed her race. I can understand that. The book only mentions it once or twice. What I cannot comprehend is the horrified reaction that came from many so called ‘fans’.
“This just ruined the movie for me.”
“Why did they make all the good characters black?”
“I pictured her whiter and innocent-er.”
“Why is a black b*tch playing Rue?”
Excuse me? How does a black character ruin an entire movie? Why do good and innocent characters have to be white? Why is this girl a bitch for daring to be cast in a racially appropriate role?
The sad fact is that racism is not dead. Not even close. We might like to think that it’s the nasty habit of a backward era long gone. If we live in certain areas, we might not even notice it. But trust me – it’s there. It’s there in obvious places, like tweets calling Amandla the ‘n’ word, and it’s there in the subconscious as well.
Because here’s the thing. When readers missed Rue’s “satiny brown skin” – or ignored it – they automatically pictured her as white. White is the default setting of our brains. Did anyone check for textual evidence that Peeta, Cato, or Haymitch is white? Of course not. We just assume – mostly because YA books and movies are whiter than a polar bear in a snowstorm. This is the only thing that will sell, Hollywood and publishers argue. Ethnic characters aren’t marketable. So whites continue to be the heroes while teens of color never see themselves represented favorably in fiction. They’re shunted to the background, stereotypical roles, or the spot of the villain. Since when is that fair?
If you’re a writer, I challenge you to take a look at all of your characters. Are they all white? Subconsciously our own bias may be showing. We have the power to put people of color in the spotlight instead of constantly giving them supporting roles. We don’t have to write white, white, white. The choice is ours.
And if I ever get a book published, I’m definitely posting a list of each character’s race online. That’ll stop a lot of the confusion.