Whenever there’s a book-to-film adaptation, some degree of displeasure over casting choices is expected, and “The Hunger Games” was no exception. There was understandable controversy when the studio only considered Caucasian actresses for the lead role of Katniss Everdeen, which went to Jennifer Lawrence.
Since then, we’ve seen fans say that Liam Hemsworth isn’t dark enough, Josh Hutcherson isn’t tall enough, and Woody Harrelson isn’t paunchy enough. These are all fair, if highly debatable, points.
What we could not have predicted was a bizarre outburst of fans furious that Rue, a young girl sent to her death in the arena, was being played by the absolutely adorable Amandla Stenberg. Why? Because Stenberg is black. (In actuality, she’s half black, but that’s beside the point.)
A Tumblr account was created to point out the heinous racism in tweets from fans. Some examples of tweets about Rue (all of which have been deleted amidst the public outcry):
“why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie”
“Kk call me racist but when i found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself”
“HOW IN THE WORLD ARE THEY GONNA MAKE RUE A FREAKIN BLACK B**** IN THE MOVIE?!?!?!??! lolol not to be racist buuuuut I’m angry now ;o”
We’ll let those stand without comment. (Except: barf.)
Perhaps the greatest twist in all this is that Rue is described as having “dark brown skin and eyes” and “thick, dark hair” in the novels. While it was never explicitly stated that she was black, one would expect that “dark brown skin” would lead a reader to that assumption, particularly given the fact that the book takes place hundreds of years in the future and race is never a factor in the story. Author Suzanne Collins was closely involved in casting the film.
It would appear that certain racist fans have retroactively whitewashed the character, because she’s portrayed as an innocent, pure, sweet, and selfless child — and racist brains have trouble equating those qualities with someone who isn’t pale and blonde.
In response to the controversy, Stenberg quietly released a statement. “As a fan of the books, I feel fortunate to be part of The Hunger Games family,” she says. “It was an amazing experience; I am proud of the film and my performance. I want to thank all of my fans and the entire Hunger Games community for their support and loyalty.”
And with that, a 13-year-old proves to have more class and grace than legions of bigots.
Stenberg’s performance was nothing short of heartbreaking, so we hope to see much more of her in the future.