Both fans and critics of 'The Hunger Games' are catching fire

Lakeidra Chavis/Sun Star Reporter
April 10, 2012

The Hunger Games has been placed as the third highest grossing movie on the first night, in history.

“The Hunger Games.” It’s everywhere. I noticed the novel last year when searching on Amazon but never bought it. When the movie premiered in late March I refused to see the film until I read the book.

After the first page I was hooked.

All of the hype about “The Hunger Games” is well-deserved. However, an abundance of controversy about racism, body image and government comes along with the hype.

“The Hunger Games” is a novel by American author Suzanne Collins published in 2008, the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy. The book focuses on Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the 74th annual Hunger Games.  The Hunger Games is a televised battle in which one boy and one girl from each of the 12 districts in Panem must fight till the death. Only one can survive.

In “The Hunger Games,” as with any novel, how readers imagined the characters in the book conflicted with how the characters were portrayed in film.

In the novel, Rue and Thresh are described as having “dark brown skin.” Some fans were surprised by the casting of African-American actors to play the characters – a shock that changed their opinions of the novel.

Beginning in November 2011, comments regarding the two African-American actors portraying the characters Rue and Thresh bombarded the web.  The comments ranged from derogatory terms for African-Americans to a lack of understanding regarding the characters’ descriptions.

“Arkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blondle[sic] innocent girl you picture,” one Twitter user said.  Other comments included, “kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad,” and “Sense[sic] when has Rue been a n—–?”

I’ve had moments when the actors on screen were not how I imagined them when I read the novel. I have never called someone a derogatory term because of it.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Suzanne Collins spoke about how she intended the characters to look.

“They were not particularly intended to be biracial. It is a time period where hundreds of years have passed from now. There’s been a lot of ethnic mixing … But then there are some characters in the book who are more specifically described,” Collins said. “They’re African-American,” Collins said about Thresh and Rue, who have been the focus of the controversy.

“I thought it was really ignorant of people from the sounds of what they were saying, to discriminate on the actors based on an idea in their head of what the characters looked like,” said Ferryn Nowatzki, a 19-year-old art student at UAF. Nowatzki, who has not read the novel, saw the movie with me.

While reading the character descriptions I imagined Rue and Thresh to be black. One could argue that because I am a black woman, I would have naturally assumed that Rue, described as having “dark brown skin,” would be black as well.

I found it more interesting that Rue and Thresh came from District Eleven, the agricultural district. In that district people work in the fields all day. I did not know if Collins was aware that the black characters in her novel worked in the agricultural district, like slaves did in the nineteenth century. I wondered if this connection between the two was the author’s choice or if because of American culture, she automatically associated African-Americans with agriculture.

“Maybe some people see that as stereotypical, the two African-Americans are from the agricultural district. The whole stereotype of African-Americans being cotton-pickers,” said Reid Goneau, 18, a general studies student. Goneau, who has read the novel and seen the film, said that race was not a big issue when seeing the film.

After the film’s release, some critics called Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who portrays Katniss Everdeen, “too curvy.” In the novel, Everdeen is described as slim and lives in poverty. I felt that the criticism was more about the beauty expectations Western women are held up to rather than a bad casting call. Lawrence is fit but she is neither curvy or starving.

“She was a good actress for the part. Are you really gonna make her starve herself for it?” Goneau said.

“I thought she looked fine, I don’t think that’s the main thing the audience should be concerned about, that’s the same with the racism,” Nowazski said, calling the criticism ridiculous. “If you’re a great actor, you can make the audience believe anything.”

The novel does not focus on issues of race or body image. “The Hunger Games” is a warning. The novel exemplifies what happens when government has too much power, when citizens are no longer free men and the ability to question the facts is obsolete.

“It’s a good story about her [Katniss’s] loyalty to her family and how courageous she is,” Goneau said. “It’s about the extremes of a government trying to keep control because that is essentially why they have the Hunger Games.”

“The Hunger Games,” both novel and film, tackles real issues that a younger audience can understand. I encourage you to find out for yourselves. As they say in the novel, “Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favor.”

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