Conveniently kicking off spring break, Hollywood made another addition to the long list of books adapted into film with the opening of “The Hunger Games,” the first popular installment of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. Breaking records by ranking as the 3rd highest grossing film of all time, “The Hunger Games” surpassed other reputable book adaptations, including the entire “Twilight” series and most of the Harry Potter films.
While it gained fans already familiar and those unfamiliar with the series alike, it also spurred some racial tension. As enthusiasts of the book reached the final credits on its opening day, Twitter feeds boomed with posts of the shock when Rue and Thresh, two prominent characters, were portrayed as African American.
Racial slurs were tweeted and posted in forums by the book’s devotees. Evidently, there had been a long-standing quarrel on fan sites about casting choices for Rue, a 12 year old girl who reminds the main character, Katniss, of her younger sister from whom she’d recently been separated. When suggestions of African American actresses were proposed, those who hadn’t interpreted the same race of the character were appalled and made blatantly racist statements.
Responses preceding movie screenings were similarly heated.
However, the conflict stems from either the inability to accept these details, or simply poor active reading skills. Collins did little to hide the physical features of these now controversial characters.
Listing the people chosen to fight to the death in the “The Hunger Games,” Collins describes Rue through Katniss’s first person narrative as “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.” With a deliberate account including Rue’s skin color, Collins implies ethnicity without being blunt about Rue or Thresh’s origins.
The virtual responses to this overlooked detail included a tweet reading “I was pumped about ‘The Hunger Games.’ Until I learned that a black girl was playing Rue.” Though many comments were from those who disregarded Rue’s printed description, their bewilderment could hold merit.
Katniss describes many times that Rue reminded her of her younger sister, Prim, may have created a misleading image in readers’ minds. Comparison to a Caucasian character could have bred assumption that she was lightly complexioned as well.
This meek validation still doesn’t permit the racially insensitive comments by those who overlooked this detail. Some even criticized the filmmakers, implying that they’d made a drastic change in the adaptation using Twitter hashtags such as #SticktothebookDUDE. If they would have read more closely, they would have realized their mistake and kept their comments at bay.
Turning movies into films always runs the risk of skipping things that readers believe were pertinent to the storyline. This is a rare instance where readers voiced qualms with a film’s final cut, only to discover they were the ones who’d missed something vital.