I haven’t seen the film version of The Hunger Games yet; when I do, I’ll certainly do a write-up here with my thoughts. In the meantime, I’d like to give a few words to an issue more important than my opinions on the film itself.
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the immense backlash from fans regarding the casting of Rue and other characters as black actors (if you haven’t, read about it here). On one level, this is profoundly funny, since this whole legion of “fans” missed that Rue and Thresh were explicitly described as black in the novel (making the “STICK TO THE BOOK” comments particularly delicious). But more fundamentally, it’s horrifying. The Jezebel article does a good job of unpacking a lot of the issues surrounding this mindset, so I’d like to focus on one specific question: would these people have been Hunger Games fans in the first place if they’d realized Rue was black?
Granted, the readers’ ability to miss the obvious is really impressive. They assumed a lovable little girl must be white and thus managed to overlook that the text was saying the opposite. But what if Rue’s blackness was too blatantly stated for these people to ignore? Would this have changed their emotional reaction to the book as a whole? Judging by comments that casting a “black bitch” to play Rue “ruined the movie” and made some lose interest in seeing it, I’d say yes. One of these people says that “when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.” So it’s not too big a stretch to say that the novel’s success, at least with this demographic, relied entirely on their ignoring the non-whiteness of the characters with whom they were supposed to empathize.
Not too long ago I honestly believed that while racism was still a presence in America, we’d moved past the point where expressing it in such blatant terms was socially acceptable. Maybe that was never true, or maybe the internet has created a new venue for cowards to broadcast hate and prejudice with impunity. It’s probably a combination of those.
It was with best intentions–and apparently more than a touch of naivete–that I wrote Mutt. The book is a commentary on race, class, and privilege that aims to get past people’s preconceptions by removing these issues to a fictional context. But for some readers, at least, it appears that won’t be sufficient. The mere fact that the book relies on its readers to care about and support non-white characters is apparently going to be too much to ask.
I’m not even sure how to conclude this except to say that damnit, we really need to work toward education and healing. This issue is just one example of the kind of toxic mindset that will continue to destroy us as long as we let it.