Lenny Kravitz (left) as Cinna and Amandla Sternberg as Rue (right)
Any adaptation from book to movie is bound to rile up fans. The casting of black actors in “The Hunger Games” has spurred some negative tweets — even though at least two are true to Suzanne Collins’s 2008 book.
The frenzy has focused on three characters in particular: Rue (Amandla Sternberg) and Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi), the child tributes from District 11, as well as Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), the stylist assigned to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the movie’s archer-heroine. In a curious twist of reading comprehension failure and racism, a few tweets have made the public rounds:
“why does rue have to be black 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.”
“Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture.”
The casting issue surfaced late last year, after the character posters were released. Racialious guest contributor noted the reactions posted on “The Hunger Games” Facebook page: “Everything from the innocuous ‘She’s not how I pictured her’ to ‘I was all sad and like ‘she’s black!'”
Since the tweets have been collected, called out, and condemned, some of the accounts have disappeared, and a countertweet defense movement launched. One poster took over one deleted account to come up with satirical variations: “why does Frederick Douglass have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined abolition” and “why does the Harlem Renaissance have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the New Negro Movement.”
One apology did come through: After admitting to tweeting “cinna and rue werent suppose to be black… Why did the producer make all the good characters black,” the poster later wrote “it worded everything wrong and was high when i posted that tweet. i didn’t mean to offend people.”
Faithful to the book?
Outlets such as Colorline point out that Rue and other characters in “The Hunger Games,” which takes on class oppression in a dystopian society, are described as dark-skinned: “And most hauntingly,” writes author Collins, “a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor.” (Prim is Katniss Everdeen’s sister, and the resemblance — darker skin tone aside — sets up Katniss’s conflicted tenderness for her foe.)
[Related: The Politics of “The Hunger Games”]
Cinna’s race isn’t clearly detailed, but he differentiates himself from the ornately attired stylists by being simply clothed in black, wearing gold eyeliner, and having green eyes and cropped brown hair. The Facebook response to Lenny Kravitz’s casting prompted comments such as “Wtf cinna is black?????!!!!!!!(just saying wht everyone is thinking)lol” and “Umm I got the impression Cinna was what…”
Not many have questioned the casting of Jennifer Lawrence, who has earned critical and fan acclaim for her portrayal. At least one blogger did wonder about the “filmmakers’ decision to limit the casting call to white actresses.” The Kentucky native dyed her hair brown and had her skin darkened to match the character’s “olive” skin.
The last adaptation that spurred this much controversy, if not more, was M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender.” Fans of the cartoon launched a protest site, and critics such as Roger Ebert called the casting choices “wrong.” In that case, the anime was clearly based “on Asian culture and kung fu and Eastern religion and thought,” according to co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino speaking in a 2006 interview.