Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What's Worse Than a Fight to the Death in an Outdoor Arena?

Because it’s no secret that the internet loves nothing more than to crush the spirits of fangirls like myself, I knew it was only a matter of time before something attempted to tarnish my pristine new love affair with The Hunger Games.

Then a friend linked me to the Hunger Games Tweets Tumblr, a compendium of the bigoted perspectives of those shocked by the black actors playing Rue and Thresh in the recently released movie.

I was not prepared.

For those of you who haven't heard about this groundswell of public opinion, allow me to summarize: In the novel, Suzanne Collins describes Rue as having "dark brown skin and eyes" and Thresh as having "the same dark skin as Rue". Naturally, black actors were cast to play these roles in the movie: 

Amandla Stenberg AKA "Rue"
Dayo Okeniyi AKA "Thresh"
Now, Cinna - the empathetic stylist who helps Katniss win over the crowd with jaw-dropping ensembles - is described as having "closecropped hair [that] appears to be its natural shade of brown" and green eyes. He's played by Lenny Kravitz:  

Lenny Kravitz AKA "Cinna" (The eyes behind those shades aren't green)
Apparently, some fans are up in arms because they somehow missed the novel's descriptions of Rue and Thresh and are just downright offended by the fact that brown-eyed Kravitz was picked to play Cinna. 

Now, the obvious display of racism has been discussed in detail by the HuffPo, Jezebel, and many others. So, I’m not going to bother with that. Nor will I dwell on the mind-numbing ignorance and borderline illiteracy that are evident in many of these tweets.

I'm more intrigued (and by "intrigued" I mean disgusted and slightly nauseated) by the ways in which racism is manifesting these days.

Obviously, the most disturbing thing about it all is the anger, the outright bile being spewed in response to the sight of a black girl playing the much-loved character, Rue. I’m not naïve; I know that there are still those who look down on black people purely on the basis of skin color. I don’t pretend to understand these people, nor do I presume to comprehend exactly what it is about the color of skin and the texture of hair that still  triggers so many presumptions in this day and age. But – call me crazy – I kind of thought we were past the open hatred. Clearly, I was wrong:

Thank GOD he snuck that disclaimer in there.
More insidious, though, is the surprise expressed by less vehement tweeters. While the tweets filled with hatred shook me, they were easier to dismiss as the rantings of ignorant bigots. This kind of tweet, however, stuck with me much longer:

It took six times? No wonder she missed the single line of description in the book.
One of the posters to the Hunger Games Tweets Tumblr acknowledges the problems with most of the tweets while attempting to excuse those "who are just surprised". She goes on to explain why she was surprised (another missed description) and implies that this is very different from the overtly racist tweets. 

While I recognize (and appreciate) the difference in tone, I'm not convinced that there aren't racist undertones in the "surprised" tweets as well. I think that it says something about society that the choice of a black actor (as opposed to a white one) would take anyone aback if the race of the character is not central to the story. 

I'm not implying that people should be completely color-blind. It's natural to notice differences in race. But where it's not relevant, it shouldn't be an issue. The fact that it is - that it could take a viewer out of the movie long enough for them to tweet about it with such dismay - is disheartening. They didn't cast a dolphin to play Rue. They cast a beautiful black girl - a human being with darker skin than some and lighter skin than others. Just what is so shocking about that? 

Of course, many of these tweets hint at the stomach-churning idea that some people were able to look at Amandla's sweet face and see something less than human: 

Thanks for giving us the go-ahead there, Jashper.
Which is enough to make you want to call a Time Out On Life.

There are those who argue that these particular tweets came from teens in the ignorant minority, but I can’t help but wonder what it means that anyone actually still thinks this way and feels comfortable enough to express it in such a public forum. 

I also wonder about Amandla. According to her IMDb profile, she'll be 14 this year and -  instead of celebrating her second acclaimed  feature film performance in as many years - she may spend the next few months coming to grips with the fact that a group of people hate her for no other reason than the fact that she's black. 

Unless, of course, her parents manage to keep it from her.

Knowing the internet, I doubt it.  

Tweet pics via Hunger Games Tweets

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