Why 'The Hunger Games' Is About Racism

And why it may give us a way to talk about what that means today.
Why 'The Hunger Games' Is About Racism

A few days ago, Imran Siddiquee wrote in The Atlantic about “the topics dystopian films won't touch”—namely, racism and sexism. Using films like The Giver, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, Siddiquee argues that today's dystopian films are missing the opportunity to comment on the issues that really do face us today.

I started writing this post yesterday, but as my Twitter feed scrolls past with #Ferguson, I'm more aware than ever that there are some vital critiques in Siddiquee's argument, particularly about how casting choices in films like The Hunger Games do affect viewers both individually and socially. He never uses these terms exactly, but what he means, I believe, is that what we see on screen shapes how we imagine the world to be—and how we imagine the world can be. Can, for instance, an actor or actress who isn't white (other than Denzel Washington or Will Smith) save the day in a tale of darkness?

That's why the casting choices in movies like The Hunger Games definitely matter. For instance, you'll recall after the first movie was released in 2012, a series of racist Tweets appeared about Amandla Stenberg, the young black actress who was cast as Rue, a character clearly described in the book as having “dark skin and eyes.”

"Why does rue have to be black not gonna lie ruined the movie," one Tweeter posted. "EWW rue is black?? I'm not watching,” wrote another.

You can write those off as the inane chatter of teenagers with low reading comprehension skills, but it's interesting to note, as Siddiquee does, that Katniss is described in the books as having “olive skin,” which is of course not something Jennifer ...

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Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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