Black People Ruin Movies. Or Something.

1 Apr

Redundancy, repetition, redundancy. That’s what it feels like to blog about sexism and racism and, you know, all the other stuff, anyway. I keep repeating myself – and it’s not only I because I seem to have a tendency to do that, but because the world is not changing as rapidly as one might wish. Like, not at all… Did I say it’s not changing?

I have read the Hunger Games series last year while travelling. Apparently, it’s the New Hot Thing right now, and, despite the fact that it is a bit of a slightly altered version of other, more profound dystopian classics and, basically, teenage literature that is somewhat gloomy and yet, not gloomy enough for a scenario like this (for the sake of the kids, I get it), it also has all the mechanisms of pop literature that make you keep reading the books and entertain you well. Moreover, the one thing I really enjoyed about the books, is that they have a female lead for a change, that this female lead is described as having “olive skin”, “dark” hair and grey eyes, that there are multiple people of colour introduced as actual real characters (stereotypically portrayed in some cases, yes, but more endearing in others), and that things aren’t completely good v. evil, but more complex than that.

Now that we’ve entered the movie trilogy stage, guess what happened? We couldn’t possibly have a female lead that is also a woman of colour with “olive” skin, dark hair and grey eyes, so, naturally, the casting directors have given the role of “Katniss” to a white, blonde, blue-eyed actress who had to dye her hair brown to remotely resemble the actual protagonist. I thought she did a good job in the movie, but that does not change the fact that, again, characters have to be literally stripped of their colour to make them “majority-accessible”, and to make a film or book or whatever successful (and not an “ethnic” piece of art, whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean… oh, wait, I know what it means…).

In fact, people were so outraged over the fact that even the characters in the book that were explicitly described as people of colour, as having “very dark skin” and black hair, were actually Black in the movie, that they lost their temper on several social media platforms and proclaimed that every sympathy they have had for the character while reading the books was now gone. This is specifically targeted at a character named “Rue”, a little girl who is so intensely set up as the innocent, loving, caring, smart, skillful, beautiful and amazing martyr that it is impossible not to like her while reading or watching, that proclamations like these give me a chill. It is still officially acceptable to hate everything non-white, and there are people who are actually angry at themselves and angry at the world when they discover belatedly (because reading comprehension only goes so far, apparently) that they have seemingly been tricked into rooting for a girl of colour, when all along they thought she was a white, blonde, blue-eyed girl – the “normal” recipe for innocence.

So: not only do main characters have to be stripped of any colour to be able to be a default human being, not even the characters explicitly described as people of colour are allowed to actually be people of colour in the staging of a play or movie, let alone in the minds of people who read about them, because thinking of a a person of colour voids certain white people of all empathy.  Because they think good human beings are white. Because they think that white actors are better anyway (Blackface, anyone?). Because no matter how often people reiterate that there is a Black US president and so on and so forth, white supremacy is alive and thriving. And teenagers might enjoy reading or watching the Hunger Games, but some of their fellow classmates get murdered for being Black in public. This is why I keep repeating myself – because nothing ever fucking changes. And that’s not only annoying and disheartening, but, as the case of Trayvon Martin shows, this has lethal implications.

There has been a series of articles at  Jezebel that I think is great – so this post was basically an introduction to them :) – you should really go and read these:

1) Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Very Disappointed.

2) I See White People: Hunger Games and a Brief History of White-Washing.

4 Responses to “Black People Ruin Movies. Or Something.”

  1. kiturak April 2, 2012 at 4:20 am #

    Thanks for the great post! I don’t mind the repetition one bit :)
    Just wanted to add another article I liked, White Until Proven Black: Imagining Race in Hunger Games

  2. marle April 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Actually Katniss is described as having gray eyes, not brown. She also has blond-haired sister and mother, so I don’t think she was meant to be non-white.

    Otherwise I did like your article, and the lack of protagonists who are women of color in books and movies is a problem.

    • accalmie April 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

      @kiturak: many thanks for the link :)!
      @marle: you’re right, of course – this time i failed at reading comprehension when it came to eye color, thanks for the correction. however, her skin tone is described as “olive”, her hair is described as “black” and “straight”, and it is said that her mother and sister are blond, but she comes after her father, who apparently had a dark skin/hair tone as well. obviously, imagination differs, but to me that’s not the description of a “caucasian” woman by default; and my main problem remains that white people are not being typecast as the “ethnic”/”white” character, but as the “natural” lead – no matter what the book might say.

      • kiturak April 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

        re: Katniss, only if you assume a huge, racist, white-only environment it could make any sense at all to assume by default that blonde hair/grey eyes will be a sign of them and everybody else in the (biological/ monogamous/ heterosexual) family being white.
        … bad enough that that’s been the default setting of the bulk of white-authored SF/F from the start – no need to apply it when something’s not written that way for once.

        Plus, ahem – what accalmie said about this not being the point at all, sorry :D And yes to that point – “white” = “natural”, “person of colour” = “‘viewers’ won’t empathize”- how will things ever change if films cater exclusively to (racist) white people?

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