White Until Proven Black: Imagining Race in Hunger Games

Rue-hunger-gamesAnna Holmes in The New Yorker [h/t: Linta Varghese]:

On Tuesday, February 28th, a twenty-nine-year-old Canadian male fan of Suzanne Collins’s dystopian young adult trilogy, “The Hunger Games,” logged onto the popular blogging platform Tumblr for the first time and created a site he called Hunger Games Tweets. The young man, whom I’ll call Adam, had been tracking a disturbing trend among Hunger Games enthusiasts: readers who could not believe—or accept—that Rue and Thresh, two of the most prominent and beloved characters in the book, were black, had been posting vulgar racial remarks.

Adam, who read and fell in love with the trilogy last year, initially encountered these sorts of sentiments in the summer of 2011, when he began visiting Web sites, forums, and message boards frequented by the series’s fans, who were abuzz with news about the film version of the book. (The movie, released a week ago today, made a staggering $152.5 million during its first three days of release.) After an argument broke out in the comments section of an Entertainment Weekly post that suggested the young black actress Willow Smith be cast as the character of Rue, he realized that racially insensitive remarks by “Hunger Games” fans were features, not bugs. He soon began poking around on Twitter, looking at tweets that incorporated hashtags—#hungergames—used by the book’s devotees. Like the conversations found on message boards, some of the opinions were vitriolic, if not blatantly racist; unlike the postings on fan forums, however, the Twitter comments were usually attached to real identities.

“Naturally Thresh would be a black man,” tweeted someone who called herself @lovelyplease.

“I was pumped about the Hunger Games. Until I learned that a black girl was playing Rue,” wrote @JohnnyKnoxIV.

“Why is Rue a little black girl?” @FrankeeFresh demanded to know. (she amended her tweet with the hashtag admonishment #sticktothebookDUDE.)

Adam was shocked—Suzanne Collins had been fairly explicit about the appearance, if not the ethnicity, of Rue and Thresh, who, along with twenty-two other kids, are thrown into the life-or-death, Lord of the Flies-esque battle that the book is named for.