Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why Katniss Everdeen is a Woman of Color

Why The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen is a Woman of Color

The Casting Controversy

I loved The Hunger Games when I devoured the trilogy in a week (the first book, in a day). As a woman of color (brown, not olive skinned) who grew up in a third world country, the idea of being a revolutionary hero in the world of YA seemed to speak to my childish self. When I found out it was going to be made into a movie, I was so excited to see who would be cast to play my black-haired, olive-skinned heroine. This week, Jezebel reported that Jennifer Lawrence may be cast in the lead: she is most decidedly not the black-haired, olive-skinned woman of color I imagined kicking butt as the Girl on Fire. Jezebel bases its argument that casting should include non-Caucasians on explicit descriptions of characters in the book, and not on the omissions or the overall metaphor that I found to be the most compelling argument for why Katniss is not white. In short, the entire metaphor that runs through the book about oppression, hunger, and excess is meaningless if none of the main characters are people of color.
Katniss in the books

"Straight black hair, olive skin, we even have the same gray eyes. But we’re not related, at least not closely. Most of the families who work the mines resemble one another this way."

In the books, our heroine Katniss Everdeen is invariably described as having “olive” skin, grey eyes and black hair. She tells us through narration that this is how people from District 12, “the Seam”, look – including her best friend Gale, and her now deceased father. She contrasts this against her mother’s appearance – a blonde, blue eyed woman from the small merchant class, her little sister who resembles her mother, and the other tribute from District 12 – Peeta, a baker’s son.

A divide has arisen between readers regarding whether Katniss’ “olive” skin means she is white, and those who believe she is a biracial woman of color (and that “olive”, therefore, connotes something “other” than white). The best argument for Katniss’ whiteness that I have seen is that readers tend to associate “olive” skin with Italian, French or Greek peoples; or that she has to be “at least part white” because her mom is. But none of these arguments seem to address the fact that the overall metaphor that makes the book work requires that the heroine be a woman of color.

Omission: How are “white” characters described

To determine if Katniss is “white”, we should consider how other characters’ races are depicted.

I find the argument that Katniss’ mother is “white” the most telling about the biases we hold. Katniss’ mother and sister, Prim, are described by their hair ("light", presumably blonde) and eye color (blue). Unlike Katniss and Gale, there is no mention of their skin tones when we meet them. But Collins doesn’t say they are white. In light of that omission, I find it interesting that readers assume they are white rather than ethnically ambiguous. Even if you buy into the logic that most people with light/blonde hair and blue eyes we see in western media are white, then isn’t it fair to say that most “olive” people we see in western media are people of color?

Let’s assume that, as in much other literature, the “default” is white. The incredibly important flipside of this omission is that people of color tend to be described by their skin tone. This seems to be true in The Hunger Games, since the characters whose skin tones are noted are not marked as white. Characters of color like Rue and Thresh are described by their skin tone (Rue - "bright, dark, eyes and satiny brown skin"; Thresh - "the same dark skin as Rue"). Even the odd colors that people of the Capitol dye themselves are described. Therefore, the inclusion of a descriptor for Katniss’ skin tone seems to mark her place in the book as “other” than white. In other words, since all white characters are white until deemed otherwise, it seems logical to conclude that Katniss is not white since she was deemed “olive”.

I haven’t seen any compelling arguments to refute this analysis of the literature. If Katniss’ whiteness is notable due to its olive-ness, why are none of the other white characters’ skin tones noticeable for other shades or tinges?

The only exception (sort of) is Peeta. When we meet him, we assume he is white because of his "ashy blond hair" and blue eyes. Only much later in the book, when his life is endangered, does Katniss remark on the possibility of him being "bled white", or looking "paper white". However, instead of overturning my conclusionabout the omission, this seems to confirm that characters who are not racialized when we meet them, are probably supposed to be white.

Maybe she has a tan

I can’t take this argument seriously since a) I don't think District 12 has a climate where people of the "Seam" who work in mines could tan to a nice "olive" while the merchant class remain non-"olive"; and b) this could quickly deteriorate into "white people can have brown skin" under the same logic. Which, ultimately, gets us nowhere. On a sidenote, people of color can have blue eyes and light hair, but no one is up in arms demanding Prim is a POC.

But people of color don’t have grey eyes/white parents; and white people (like Prim) don’t have fathers of color.

Yes, many can and do.

The Revolution Metaphor

The main reason I loved the trilogy was exactly that it was bubbling over with revolution – with images and ideas that were easy to analogize to the current world economic order and power structure. The Hunger Games is all about hunger, deprivation, oppression and revolution, survival, and democracy/equality and human rights. The people in most of the districts are literally starving. They have nothing (including no political power), and struggle to survive within the confines of rules imposed from elsewhere (the Capitol) where they have so much food they throw up at parties so they can eat more. The rule the book centers around is the obligation to sacrifice two of their children in the Hunger Games where they must compete for to the death until there is only one tribute left standing. To be allowed to live, they have to sacrifice their children.

The Districts live under the thumb of a dictator who resides in the Capitol. Locally, the majority of people living under dictatorships in the world are people of color. The welfare of children is also often sacrificed by our own governments in the South for the “greater good” (often under the rhetoric of the “right to development”) – for example, in sweat shops – even though it ultimately only benefits a select few (in ways disproportionate to suffering). Not to mention child soldiers in the Global South who are forced to fight for their survival coming out of oppressive conditions every day – kind of like Katniss.

Globally, the Capitol exerts its power from “abroad” to affect the conditions in the Districts so the people in the Capitol can continue their relatively luxurious lifestyles. Generally speaking, countries of the global North often extend their power to force countries in the Global South (predominantly populated by people of color) to operate under oppressive rules either imposed by or ignored by powerful countries (IMF, World Bank, conditionalities tied to loans). Or, they turn a blind eye to human rights abuses when it suits their needs.

Particularly when you know that Collins was inspired by footage of the war in Iraq, it seems a very obvious metaphor to make. Katniss Everdeen – coming out of impoverished, desperate conditions to unwittingly end up in a revolution to overthrow the regime that keeps her people down – could be any one of the many people of color coming out of analogous situations who frequently lack the power to overthrow an entire government or economic world order. Every day, we see people standing up to dictatorships and demanding political power – just as characters in the Hunger Games eventually do. Even the options she subtly displays for an ultimate leader all seem to embody different types of leaders we see throughout history: dictators who have been in power forever, leaders who do not espouse the ideals they run on, and people who grow into leaders from their roles in the struggle for freedom.

Either as a localized revolution against a dictator in the Global South, or as a global analogy related to the wealth and power of the North, the Hunger Games is one large metaphor for people of color rising up against oppression.

Why does this metaphor mean Katniss is not white?

It is too easy a metaphor – too easy social commentary that is relevant and related to Collins’ inspiration and personal history – to not be deliberate. If Collins intended this metaphor to Third World struggles and wars, and Katniss is a woman of color – then I love this trilogy, because it is the kind of book that would allow women and YA of color (olive or otherwise) to envision their struggles differently. They could see themselves as heroes, as agents for change, as people who can resist instead of merely struggling to exist (to reference K’naan).

If Collins intended this metaphor, and Katniss is a white girl with skin somewhat darker than her mother, then I hate this book: because then Collins is deliberately appropriating the struggles of millions and placing white protagonists in places where people of color should be (and in reality, are).

Why would the latter possibility upset me enough to hate the books? Because it disallows compassion and empathy. Instead of Northern readers seeing themselves as in the position of the Capitol, they see themselves as the oppressed, hungry girl from District 12 striving against whatever form their oppressions individually take. This would be a tragedy. Additionally, as a woman who grew up in a third world country, this is offensive: it feels like media from a culture that contributes to oppression throughout the world is re-writing a history to feed to children that writes me (and people who look like me) right out of it. The potential for using media and fiction to draw analogies to real life and potentially garner support for real, living people was lost. For example, in our eagerness to “be” N’avi, we forget the indigenous peoples whose oppressions we contribute to or are complicit in every day. In our eagerness to “be” Katniss, are audiences going to forget the Katnisses that actually exist – that actual hunger, and rebel?

Collins is telling us: people will rebel against oppression; brown-skinned people do want political power; it is wrong for rich, excessive cultures to benefit from the desperate, oppressive conditions of “others”. These are all messages that are lost by turning Katniss into the same girl I see all over the place in YA fiction-turned-movies (Narnia, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson): a white “girl next door”.

If this metaphor doesn’t exist, and I completely made it up, then I’ll admit it: I have no idea what the Hunger Games could possibly be about besides sensationalism and reality TV with some glorified child-soldiering thrown in. Because of Collins’ inspiration and personal history (her father fought in the Vietnam war), it seems unlikely to me that she would be wilfully blind to this obvious social commentary.

In other words, if Katniss is white, the metaphor that makes the trilogy meaningful social commentary and inspirational to the would-be revolutionaries of color in the world is lost. It’s just an appropriation of struggles. It is a re-writing of history that erases us, erases our struggles and our victories. I have to believe Collins didn’t mean this: so I have to believe, to love these books, that Katniss is a WOC.

EDITED 03/13/12 to add: I've added a "hunger games" tag to all posts about the Hunger Games, including links to other blogs. Please click for more perspectives on this issue!

75 comments:

  1. Hello! I followed this link from Racialicious.

    I was preparing to buy/read the "The Hunger Games" trilogy when the casting for movie Katniss became official. What else is new, right? What a colossal disappointment. Your take on it is illuminating. You couldn't have analyzed it better, in my opinion. This is not the first time Hollywood plays the white by default card; it won't be the last. Still it hurts. Anchored by a more daring, inspired choice, the character, the story, could have been groundbreaking; with such conventional casting the story could lose the impact of exploring this different, dystopian world through an usual (for Hollywood) POV, settling for business as unusual. Oh well. Fantastic commentary.

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  2. I feel so passionately against everything you wrote but I will try to keep it respectful.

    Secondly I find it incredibly how much you need Katniss to be imagined as a woman of color so far that you would hate the books if she was white. I'm know you don't intend it to be but that sounds awfully racist to me.

    I think you are seeing things that aren't there. If Suzanne Collins meant for all those things (colonial repression, one race exploiting another,) to be front and center of the story as you interpret if, she would've made it more obvious.

    What is the Hunger Games about if not this? It's entertaining, it's a YA book not a complex supernovel. The Capitol is a allegory of a generic oppressive DOMESTIC government not a allegory of colonialism or white/black repression. Like North Korea, it's no less poignant because it doesn't involve the repression that you are familiar with.

    Again I don't see why the movie should have any influence on your view of the books. Lots of crappy movies have been made based on great books.

    You don't see me hating Dragon Ball because the American Dragon Ball movie sucked and was played by white actors.

    In a nutshell I think you overnalyzed the books in a way they were never intended to be. It's like saying Little Red Riding Hood was an allegory on pedophilia. I guess you can make any literature into anything you want if you look hard enough.

    And I am sorry if I come off rude, I respect your where you come from and your life experiences. I just don't think there is any merit in this complaint of Katniss being white.

    While smarter than the average YA book, THG is still a YA book. I doubt that the author put that much complex thought into something as simple as "olive skin" and "black hair". Everything is pretty out in the open in the the Hunger Games books, there is no hidden or disguised meaning. Everything is in broad obvious strokes and there is not much evidence to what you have described (the Africa analogies).

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    1. All i have to say about that, dont be offended, is what 'color' are you?

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    2. I agree... there is no doubt in my mind that the author of this comment is white. (I'm white, too, but I know whitewashing when I see it.)

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    3. I agree... the author of this comment was most definitely a white person. (I am white myself, but I know whitewashing when I see it.)

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    4. I completely agree... I am absolutely positive that the person who posted this is white. (I am white myself, but I recognize whitewashing when I see it.)

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  3. She-rockstar,

    Thank you for comment and compliments! If you do read the books, I would love to hear your take on over-arching themes/metaphors that I found so refreshing (that I still refuse to believe Collins didn't intend).

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  4. Hi JH,

    If you write a post explaining your position with support from the novel, I would love to read it. I don't think you're rude, but I don't think you give Collins enough credit; or YA lit. I think lots of YA lit is littered with "adult" themes (Narnia and religion, for example).

    For the record, I didn't limit my argument to foreign governments (I note domestic governments) or the global South (which extends beyond Africa). I'd like to add that the metaphor of non-white people rising up against oppression is alive and well in the realities of many non-white people living in the global North (for example, First Nations and indigenous peoples). I don't know if that changes your reading of my post.

    Thanks for commenting!

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  5. Your comparison of Narnia, written by CS Lewis, to The Hunger Games, in the comment above is a poor one. C.S. Lewis is one of the world's most celebrated theologians. Comparing him to Collins is inconceivable. YA is littered with adult themes, but they're usually not on the scale you're referencing, like in Narnia. Also, in the Narnia books, the references to religion are all overt, not a deep metaphor, that I'm sure most readers - even advanced ones - would have trouble swallowing.

    Also, I find it really disappointing that you can't like the series unless Katniss is a WOC. I think it's unhealthy to be unable to put yourself in place of a heroine just because the heroine is white. I think the evidence you cite is being overwrought and twisted to suit your purposes. I don't understand why, without race as a factor, the war the characters are placed in in the book is less important to you. Also, I think if Katniss was a woman of color, Collins would have insisted that she be cast as such. Clearly, Collins, who has had a big part in the film so far, doesn't think it's central to the plot.

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  6. Hi AmandaJoy,

    My problem is not about being able to relate to a white heroine (if that were true, I would have seriously struggled through my English Lit degree).

    The reason the books mean less is outlined above: Collins is appropriating struggles that affect real, living people every day, and if Katniss is white, then she is re-packaging reality in such a way that writes the "real" Katnisses out of existence.

    As for Collins: 1) death of the author, her intentions are not central to interpretation; 2) if she intended a non-POC Katniss, you can see my opinion of her writing above; and 3) it's not about centrality to a plot, it's about giving that plot meaning beyond sensationalism, reality tv, and violence.

    To everyone - With that said, I'd like to clarify that *I* don't think this is an "adult" metaphor at all. There are many children at the YA-reading age/level that suffer very real forms of oppressions, or are knowledgable about the ones their parents and grandparents before them have. So while the idea of revolutionaries battling oppression is outside of the imagination of some readers, to say it is outside of the lived experiences or knowledge of all either gives too little credit to young readers, or pretends some of us don't exist at all. (I also don't see how this metaphor is more "adult" than the Hunger Games in the book themselves).

    Thanks for your comment!

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  7. Thank you so much for this fantastic bit of writing. I've been so frustrated over this whole casting debacle, and it's refreshing to come across a piece like this that lays out all the issues I've been stewing over, and more!

    I'm also impressed with how well you've been handling the comments, considering you could easily play racefail bingo with them--I've counted at least one accusation of 'reverse racism' and several explicit / implicit suggestions that brown-ish white people are oppressed by your refusing to acknowledge their existence (relax white people, we know you're not all the color of pure-driven snow).

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  8. Hi Michelle,

    It's nice to know there are people out there who recognize the same issues I do :) I probably didn't lay it all out as eloquently as I should have; but to be honest, I wrote it in an hour during a guest lecture in class while pretending to pay attention (terrible student, me). So I'm glad you like it despite that!

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  9. "Instead of Northern readers seeing themselves as in the position of the Capitol, they see themselves as the oppressed, hungry girl from District 12 striving against whatever form their oppressions individually take."

    I agree with most everything you've written, but then you say this. Have you thought this statement through? Is it what you truly mean? When I read a novel, regardless of the specific trappings of the characters, I identify myself with the hero of the story, because they are the hero of the story. I can't imagine that anyone reading The Hunger Games trilogy says, "Ah yes, the Capital, that is me to a T." They will see themselves in the character of the hero, be that hero male, female, white, olive, or olive green.

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  10. Hi Liz,

    By that quote, I mean in reference to the larger metaphor, rather than the immediate story. I wouldn't argue that you shouldn't relate to a protagonist, and I don't think my statement says that, but perhaps it is unclear.

    There are elements of the relationship that the Capitol has to the Districts that can easily be analogized to the relationships the global North to the global South. The structure of the economic world order essentially replicates systems where a rich few benefit from the poor. The easiest example is a sweat shop where children work in abhorrent conditions so that we can have cheaper clothing (or so that big corporations can make bigger profits).

    If we relate to Katniss, we should extend that feeling to the Katnisses of real life (see their suffering, and relate to their humanity). If we empathize with Katniss, we should recognize how we, living in the global North, benefit (economically or otherwise) from that suffering and oppression (even unintentionally, inadvertently).

    I want people to relate to Katniss. I just also want them to be able recognize the real Katnisses, and their positions in her oppressions and to decide to no longer be complicit in them (and act!).

    Finally, on a personal note, I do think it is insulting/belittling to suggest that most people from the global North "get" or "can relate to" the oppressions (starvation, child labor, political oppression, violence) of the global South. I don't think I "get" the sufferings/oppressions of indigenous people or envision myself as in comparable circumstances although I may relate to/empathize with individuals. If you think these oppressions are comparable, then we will have to agree to disagree.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Aliya

    P.S: I'm not denying that there are oppressed, hungry children in the global North. What I'm saying is that the vast majority, who live under conditions like Katniss, are in the global South.

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    1. If you look at the history of, say, British Colonialism, you will note that it began with the oppression of the people who were Celtic in the British Isles. There are many white people whose great-grandparents fougth againts British Oppression in Ireland. There are some in Northern Ireland who went through that themselves within the last century. In the 19th Century the Highlands of Scotland went through the "Clearances" because the rich land ownwers found that sheep were more profitable than, crofters (read: share-croppers) and the Gaelic Highlanders were herded out of Scotland and dumped in Canada and elsewhere. I am a minister and have parishioners who were Ukrainians who were forced labor (slaves) under the Nazi Occupation. I have parishioners who are refuguees from the Balkan wars. I have parishioners whose ancestors were transplanted to Australia by the British Government. My own family spent 400 years under Turkish rule in which, for the first 200 years, we had to pay a tax of our children (boys for the army: forcibly converted at a young age and then sent in as shock troops against their own people...girls, and some boys, forced to be sex-slaves in harems). How about the Spanish under the Civil War in the 1930's, the Albanians under Enver Hoxha and those repressed under the Communist Yoke of the laast 70 years. I have had parishioners who had fled from the Communist Rule, or who had to endure it and practice their religion in secrecy rather than be arrested. Oppression is a universally felt burden. There are many people who are "white" who have (and continue) to feel oppression. While your paradigm of colonialism vs. people of color is valid up to a point, and worthy of consideration, to exclude white people as potentially oppressed people too, in the face of the history of the 19th and 20th Centuries, is, frankly a stretch. (not to mention the Holocaust...one could leave out the Holocaust as an instance of white people being oppressed by other white people, and still have plenty of examples).

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  11. Hey there, I found this link via a bunch of other links that started from Jezebel, so I realize you posted this like 2 weeks ago.
    Anyway.

    I think the great thing about THG is that our modern day rules don't really apply and your own thoughts can really play into it as much as you want.

    As a white girl with southern European roots I have olive toned skin. My boyfriend lives in a very northern European country, I stood out so much when I went to visit him I was actually afraid I might get stopped by the police and asked for identification if I went out alone. That being my experience that is exactly the kind of skin color difference I was thinking about when I first read the description of the charters, both white just different shades of white. And for me, relating to Katniss had much more to do with her relationships, especially with Peeta, then with being a starving child.

    However even with a white Katniss I think the metaphor still makes sense. Panem can be seen as a microcosm of the world at large today with the Capitol being the developed nations, with districts being other countries in varying levels of poverty based on their relationship with the capitol.
    I also acknowledged that if Panem was the world, I would be living in the capitol. I'm no more at risk of being thrown into the Hunger Games as I am having missal land on my house. However, that is the same for people in developed countries no matter what race they are.

    As far as Katniss being white appropriating struggles of POC, well...that's basically like saying you don't think the USSR was such a bad place.

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  12. "In other words, if Katniss is white, the metaphor that makes the trilogy meaningful social commentary and inspirational to the would-be revolutionaries of color in the world is lost. It’s just an appropriation of struggles. It is a re-writing of history that erases us, erases our struggles and our victories. I have to believe Collins didn’t mean this: so I have to believe, to love these books, that Katniss is a WOC."

    But isn’t that logic following in a way the faulty assumption that social status and race are irreplaceable tied together?
    Isn’t that saying in short: Katniss can’t be white because she’s oppressed?
    Which would be nonsense naturally, because oppression doesn’t care for skin colour.
    As such I don’t actually see how a “white” Katniss would erase the struggles and victories of… whom exactly? I assume that she’s supposed to be in part of Native American descend?

    I would agree, though, that the current casting seems detrimental to the books spirit and that it would have been great if Hollywood had shown the courage to go with their casting against the mainstream mold.

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  13. I have to agree with the previous commenter who felt that Suzanne Collins would have strenuously objected to a white actress being cast if Katniss had been a POC. "Olive skin" has a meaning and it means a white person with "olive" skin tones usually meaning a tan or yellowish cast vs peaches and cream. I have olive skin. One of my daughters is very very white and one of my daughters also has olive skin. People remark on it just as Collins remarked on it in the books. Most people in District 12 looked a certain way, I felt the implication was that being down in the mines had caused that change. I guess one could debate that, but I think you're really straining at an argument that is very thin. If some people were identified as POC and Katniss was not then why wouldn't she have been? Plus olive skin has a meaning, I mean just plain and simple there's something people mean when they say someone has an olive complexion. Why would Collins use a common term that is used to mean one thing and expect it to be understood in a way that no one actually uses it? Why don't you write to her and ask her if Katniss is a POC. I bet someone would respond to you.

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  14. I agree with JH, I really felt like you wanted her to be "a woman of color" so bad that you're completely ignoring the point of the actual book and way to caught up on her appearance. God, I've gone reading an entire book with the idea of what the character looked like in my head, only to realize i accidentally read her description wrong and I didn't care. because I was focused on the BOOK. The story is kind of the whole point to a book.

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  15. Hi Everyone, I am not arguing about this anymore, but I just wanted to address:

    OldFolkie - I am not trying to say that class and race are separate. What I said is that the vast *majority* of oppressed peoples are POC. I am also talking about global inequities, where it becomes pretty obvious who the disadvantaged are.

    Robyn - Your comment actually managed to upset me, so I apologize if this is not as polite as I usually try to be. "Olive" does not universally mean "white" because you are white and olive. I know many, many WOC who have olive skin (including mixed race women, like I posit Katniss is). I probably know WOC who you share your exact skin tone with. WOC does not exclude lighter-skinned WOC, so I don't understand how even your visualization of "olive" requires that Katniss be white.

    Olive is a marker of race in my analysis (so your confusion about makes no sense). It's not not a marker of race just because you read it as white :) At least when I say I read "olive" as "of colour", I have a logical explanation other than "people tell me so". But thanks for your comment.

    Dani, I assume you mean "plot" by "story". The plot is important to me, but it isn't everything. If plot was all there was to a book, my degree would be puhrettyyy silly. With that said, the plot was important to me too, it is just significantly less important to me without the real-world context. Oh, and it's also the plot of Battle Royale which I read about ten years ago.

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  16. I want to commend you on your excellent analysis of this book. I am a white adult woman (dark brown hair and eyes, very olive skin of mixed Northern and Southern European background with some Native American) who loves to read YA books precisely because they often handle difficult issues of racism, sexism, politics, etc. in a more interesting and challenging way than many adult novels.

    I finished reading The Hunger Games last night, and I loved it. I immediately noted the themes of racism, globalization, oppression etc. etc.

    I was also intrigued by the descriptions of appearance in the book. I felt that the author made the characters of the Seam and particularly Katniss and those who look like her open to interpretation. My first impression was that she was a woman like me (Mediterranean) or a woman of color. I was swayed to thinking Mediterranean when they described her mother and sister. This is mostly because of how white her sister sounded. I have a lot of mixed-race relatives and friends and while I have a gorgeous light-skinned blue-eyed mixed race nephew, he does not resemble the whiteness of how Prim is described. However, I also am aware that this impression is based on my personal experience and by no means definitive. I actually spent a certain amount of time really thinking about race and wondering why Prim is described in such "white" terms. Finally, I decided that the author also thought about the description/race of Katniss very carefully and left her race open to interpretation on purpose so that readers could identify with her globally based on their experience. She made enough of a a point about color to make the race analogy very clear, but also vague enough that most readers could put themselves in Katniss' place.

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  17. Here is an new thought: The location of the Seam is important to this discussion. I don't know if you are familiar with Appalachia in the US or not, but it is an area of extreme poverty and hardship. The majority of the people there, particularly those of the mining back-ground are poor, uneducated and scrape by. This is an are of primarily people of Irish, English, Scottish and Native American background. There are also many African-Americans and a lot of racial tension. My mom's family is from part of Appalachia. The music that comes out of this area is heavy on themes of pain, hardship, religion and loss. Take a look a Wikipedia for more on Appalachian music. Heavy influences are traditional Scottish and Irish music mixed with African music, spirituals and "the Blues."

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  18. I was having an argument about whether Katniss' portrayal by Jennifer Lawrence was whitewashing. I said that it's no more whitewashed than the novel, since the only black characters were from the farming district. You kind of made me eat my words :) I really enjoyed this blog entry.

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  19. I'm half Greek, half Arabic, and I've been described as having "olive" skin before, as have other people in my family. We're all lightly tan, darker than most Europeans but not as dark as Africans. But regardless of our olive skin, in the American census, my family still counts as white, since both Greeks and Arabs fall into the white category.

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  20. Sorry to double post, but this is the best evidence that Katniss isn't a person of color. It's an official portrait of her from the UK: http://latimesherocomplex.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/6a00d8341c630a53ef0120a949d699970b-400wi.jpg

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  21. I really enjoyed your thoughts about this and I'm half Greek and half black . When reading the book olive toned ment people of color. In Greece olive toned people are more I. The sounth and they defonetly have color where as the actress in the movie doesn't not show any. Maybe this issue seems pointless for some bit I'm guessing many that find it pointless are not women of color . It's disappointing because how many bog mjvies such as this movie is to be have EVER shown a women of color as the main character and is strong? If any movoes come to mind that doesn't include the women being slaves, maids,sex objects. But movies that show workmen of color in roles of power and shows their intellectual capabilities . If someone does know any big movies with a female lead as the one I described please let me know. Maybe then many will realize that because woemn of color are not portrayed as such in film more often then not it gets translated into peoples expectations in real life. The media does shape our thoughts of other cultural groups whether you realize it or not. That is why this is an issue. It will only change when we say enough is enough.

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  22. This is a fascinating analysis, even though, as you know from my LJ post that you just linked to, I DO think that Katniss is white.

    I thought that the analogy of the THG books was brilliant. Because while i related to Katniss, I also felt the crushing, ugly epiphany of realizing that, being an American, I AM the Capitol.

    In that sense, I will disagree with you and say that it is still an effective metaphor, even for those (like me) who took Katniss to be white. Identifying with Katniss does *not* prohibit me from also identifying with the Capitol.

    That said, I never thought about Katniss' story being an appropriation until I read your post. I did see that the Districts were like our "third world" countries, but I didn't think about the fact that all of those countries are home to PoC.

    I'm not sure it changes the effectiveness of the books for me, the way it does for you. I certainly agree that it would have been far more powerful for her to tell the story of PoC leading a revolution. OTOH, there are poor and starving white people in the world, too. I guess I don't think that the experience of oppression is the exclusive domain of PoC, even though, obviously, they (we) make up the vast majority of the world's oppressed.

    But I'm not decided one way or the other, entirely. As I said, this is the first time someone has described Katniss's story as one of cultural appropriation to me, so you've given me a lot to think about. Thanks for that!

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  23. Olive is a hue not a color. Any skin color can be olive hued. I think your post is very racist and disgusting.

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  24. I think it's rather naive of some of these commentors to assume a POC should feel the same relation to a white protagonist as a POC protagonist. You can see this by comparing any tension with a white portrayal of Heathcliff to the new Wuthering Heights with a black portrayal.

    Second of all I find it incredibly offensive that someone should be called racist because they relate more to a POC than a white protagonist. Not because it's an assumption of "reverse racism" but because it's so hypocritical. Hollywood has a LONG LONG LONG history of whitewashing and even actors of color are often half-white or only 1/4 native (not that I mean to diminish their ethnicities but it seems that in order to be a successful actor of color you need to be a safe amount of white). Consider the lack of dark-skinned females throughout Hollywood's history and Rita Hayworth's disguising that she was latina and becoming famous only after she altered her hair line. Yes, this is particularly present in the past but it can also be seen in the present (i.e. the hunger games). You can also see this in the present by the HUGE amount of movies that are about non-Western cultures that inevitably have one white protagonist to guide us through their 'exotic world'; think Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai) Clearly a large number of white people have trouble identifying with a person of colour or even an olive skinned person or else we would have so many more characters of colour and stories where POCs affect change within their own societies without help from the benevolent white figure!

    As a POC myself, I find it both hilarious and sad that so many of us in the Global South are taught to read and learn Western books and history, talking about their great conquests and wonderful culture while we barely get to read something that features one of us. When I was growing up I not only identified with white characters, I pictured all of the characters plus myself as white or as some superior being above my peers of colour (a Homi Bhabha mimic, really). It wasn't until I studied literature and media more carefully that I realized that I was identifying with a culture than couldn't seem to even attempt to identify with my own and that my experiences were not theirs, when someone says "go out and kill your peers" to a POC it IS different from when it's said to Jennifer Lawrence. To deny this is blatantly ignorant. Yes, they is opression of whites in this world, based on religion, culture, politics and finance. I would never deny as such nor do I mean to demean their struggles. But to use these examples of oppression as proof that Katniss is white denies the inherent racial oppression of the entire global South that is prevalent in the epicentres of the world, especially in America where Collins would most likely be writing about and in Western media.

    Finally, to say that story is everything is a denial of the complexities of all novels, YA or adult literature. Most YA literature has underlying themes, messages and because they are for people in such formative years, they happen to be very complex in terms of how overarching themes etc. are dealt with. Also, don't deny context as if a book is stand alone. This is basic analysis: you MUST look at the social and historical context of all works, be they media or books, in order to analyze them. Their effect and relationship to the world around them and their story are key indicators of that the period and society in which they are written (both the book's affect on society and vice-versa); this is what separates a good book from fluff.

    That being said, if you think I'm "racist" and/or disgusting I really don't care =)

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  25. I'm sorry, but I don't think any of this is fair to anyone who is white. No one actually knows what Collins was trying to achieve by writing this book. Also, white people go through struggles every day too. Just because someone isn't of color doesn't mean that he or she doesn't have hardship in his or her life. I think the things your are insinuating about white people are terrible because it isn't true. I'm not saying there aren't any corrupt white people or struggling people of color, but it goes both ways and there are people everywhere, regardless of race, suffering and the same goes for those who are corrupt. If you really think the world is such a terrible place, I think you should go about trying to fix it, not whining about how you think Hollywood has made a terrible casting call because you see some metaphor in a book, that no one else has noticed (thus suggesting it was probably nonexistent to begin with).

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  26. I always assumed Katniss was part native american. I grew up on the edge of the Appalachians and there has always been a strong cultural native american tie to the way people live in that region of the country. I also assumed that since the novel is set in the far future, race has become somewhat of a moot point. I have read several articles that say the decrease in racial prejudice and increase in mixed race couples means that in years to come very few racial distinctions will exist, all mankind will be a wonderful milky brown color. I personally assumed this very fact, that Peeta and the merchants were the odd people of pale color, while everyone else had olive skin. I guess I just assumed native american for the protagonist based on the location they supposedly lived.
    I don't feel at all the if Katniss is in fact white changes the poignant nature of the revolution. I saw it more as a class struggle than a racial struggle, but again it can be argued that those can be one in the same. Not all disenfranchised youths have to be poc, nor do all indulgent individuals have to be white. I think Collins makes this very clear with all of the Capital citizens cosmetically altering themselves to be whatever color they wish. Katniss could be bi-racial, a woman of color, or white but that was not the issue. Any arguement should instead be directed at hollywood for not having an open eye and insisting on casting already known actresses. I think a native american or bi-racial Katniss would have been wonderful and beautiful but I had hoped that hollywood could have gotten it enough together to hire a natural brunette. My rant over I really do hope the movie turns out well despite the medias need for what they dictate as 'normal'.

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  27. There was a recent interview with the director discussing how Katniss was supposed to be biracial, so you weren't out of line. Other people imagined it as well. He said that Lawrence just did such a superb job. And no, your not racist. If I was white, I wouldn't notice the unfairness of the media either.

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  28. I see Katniss like I see myself, a hodgepodge of different races. I have features that have been labeled by others as "asian", "white", "hispanic", "native american", etc. I'm half white and half Mestizo Dominican. Which means that I'm really just a mix of a million different things (particularly from my mother's side). My skin has olive undertones (but light, since I never go outside. My mom's skin is dark, though) and my hair and eyes are black. My eyes are almond shaped and my nose a little "french". I pictured Katniss sort of like that, where her features are a little ethnically ambiguous.

    I guess I'm saying; Katniss isn't even necessarily biracial as we imagine it. She's from a time that isn't the same as ours. Yes, race exists. But Collins implied that Katniss is of a new race that came about by hundreds of years of ethnic blending and then isolation. The eye color of the people from the Seam is a perfect example. Brown is a dominant eye color over grey. For pretty much everyone in the Seam to have grey eyes, the gene pool could not have been terribly diverse. Describing Katniss as "white" or anything else in particular is kind of missing the point. I do think she is a POC, but it seems more complicated than labeling her with anything that exists today.

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  29. well, all these opinions I've read sound reasonable, but honestly, why doesn't someone just ask the author via email or something? If you do that, then you might get a straight-forward answer and it could end this argument

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  30. Honestly, I feel that it shouldnt matter so much what race katniss is becuase the main point of the series wasnt revolving much about that subject... it was about the government and being unfairly controlled. I myself am asian and know how you feel, when was the last time the character who saves the day was asian? But, Katniss would still a role mdel to many and a strong character, in my opinion, if she was of another race or if she was male or older or even handicapped. As for Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, she's probably had to deal with a lot from fans, especially because she was originally blonde. But isn't it that all that matters is that she's able to convey Katniss's true feelings and her character on the screen? There must be a good reason for why she was chosen as Katniss out of the many who tried for the role. We shouldnt judge her until after the movie comes out.

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  31. Hi, I just wanted to say that, a year later and after having seen the film, Jennifer Lawrence portrayed Katniss perfectly. I was against her casting originally as well, but now I am really impressed with her. Putting that behind us, I want to make two points.
    a) A film based on a book should have nothing to do with the value of the book, its message or its characters. There is no reason we couldn't do a POC cast Pride and Prejudice film, is there? The book however, is there and haves a message, whatever that is, and so is the Hunger Games trilogy. I completely agree that Katniss is not even remotely portrayed as a white girl. There is rightfully a debate on her race. I am of the opinion that she is bi- or even multiracial, as would most of the people be in a distant future according to population and genetics studies about closed communities. However, how the film was cast has nothing to do with that. But even with these conditions, I stand completely behind the casting of Jennifer Lawrence after seeing the film. She is a great actress and I think that matters more than having another actress that fits other standards (see race, weight (people have sad she is too busty), hair colour) that would still leave people displeased, and be a horrible actress on top of that. So I think it's better that they cast a skilled actress than a racially accurate one, when even the books are not clear on that. Now why there are far fewer POC young actresses they could choose from is another matter that has much more to do with Hollywood and show business than with the specific books.

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  32. b) Your point about the book not being meaningful anymore if Katniss is not a WOC is really degrading first of all to the book, then to fiction in general and then to white people. So the "global South" is being oppressed by the "global North". Understandable. POC should be uprising against Panem, as well as real world suppression, which they do daily. You are right. POC are underrepresented in popular culture. More than Right. But why Katniss, supposing she is white, should not be the one who starts a rebellion? And why should Suzanne Collins write about the "global South"'s experience when she herself is white, she is not from a third world country and does not intend to write about that? Are white people not capable of struggles and being oppressed, and POC incapable of suppressing? History shows otherwise. Being Greek, I know that my people, despite being white, have rebelled against their Ottoman (who, although still Caucasian, one could argue are of Mongolian descent, therefore POC) suppressors. Also being Greek, I live in a country struggling to survive, being run by other white people (Germans) and my life is worsening by the day. I can't find a job, my society is sexist, and I will eventually be forced to leave here because of these difficulties, and go to another country, where I will face discriminations due to my ethnicity. Not that I diminish your country's (wherever you are from) or your own struggles, but not everything is rosy for white people. But putting all that aside, I don't see how any of that demeans the suffering or fights of people in such countries of the "global South" you mention, or how that writes you out of any history. That is a story of a girl that self-admitedly wants nothing to do with that, just to keep her family and life safe and out of any struggle, is used by the government, and eventually fails the first goal due to other people's agendas. You can still like a book despite the lead character, and I pesronally believe the story is spectacular, real and honest, without any romanticisations. If what you got from the story is "white girl problems", then you are missing the point. This is about a horrible society where everyone is suppressed. Nobody said that real Katnisses are exclusively white, and find me a passage in the books that said only the white people rebelled in Panem (District 11 was one of the first to "catch fire", as it was put in the book, and I believe among the ones that fought the hardest). What you could say about the book, if you wanted to do a less insulting socioracial analysis, would be that "POC need a white girl to start a rebellion for them", which was one of the worst parts of the books for me, and I would stand behind that claim. But hating the books because the race of the lead character is different from yours is as horrible and racist as if I said that I hate a book with a POC lead character because I can't identify with them, being white and all. You talk about Katniss being white as if it makes her less human than you, or any POC. I *know* that that was not your intention, but with someone with no background about you, this is what you come off as.
    Anyway, I don't know if you are going to read this, much less reply, but I think you are reading too much into this, I don't think that any of this was Collins's intention, and at the end of the day, if you want to see a WOC lead in a book, write one.
    Have a nice day.

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    1. Although I've stopped replying to comments now, there are a few things I want to clarify.

      1. "If what you got from the story is "white girl problems", then you are missing the point." If you think this is what I'm saying, you are missing the point. This is a depiction of Katniss based on a reading of the book.

      2. I'm not here to write what you think would be less offensive (to white people - you seem to ignore the offense POCs feel at being continually erased and having characters of color continually white washed). If you want to write something, please do, and if you want me to link it on my blog, ask.

      3. Yes, we all know general suffering isn't exclusive to POCs - that doesn't change any of my points above.

      4. " if you want to see a WOC lead in a book, write one." First you said, "I am of the opinion that she is bi- or even multiracial", now you are saying she is not a WOC at all. Please make up your mind. If you believe she is a WOC, then I'd say, well one was written, and look how it was cast. And this is not the first time.

      5. Yes, it would be a lovely world if we could cast colorblind and it would come out fair. That world doesn't exist. Whenever a white character is spoken of being cast as a POC, there is so much outrage that validates the "original work" (i.e. Spiderman). Whenever a white person is cast as a POC character, all we hear is "talent". There are talented actors of color, but if you close the casting call to white actors, you would never know that. So, if this was a two way street, then this would not be a problem. It's not a two way street - it only works to erase characters of color and increase the already overly represented of white persons in pop culture. However, to be clear, this post is not exclusively about the casting; it is about the reading of the book.

      6. Uhm, Katniss IS less of a human than us - she is a character in a book. Secondly, I can change my opinion of the book because of how race is or is not portrayed in it - to say otherwise is to say that race is meaningless, the experiences of racialized persons are no different than those who are not racialized, that racialization carries no connotations that shape the story. I've already written a long blog post (above) about how race alters how the story is read. You can disagree with it, but calling me racist because I talk about and acknowledge race, is a statement that lacks nuance or understanding about race or racialization. (Which is offensive, but you don't see me telling you make your comment less offensive)

      7. Lastly, I want to make it VERY clear. I NEVER said I had olive skin. I identify very early on as having brown skin. I never said Katniss looked like me. Please don't confuse me with someone who is projecting her race onto a character without reference to the source material.

      Thanks for your comment and taking the time to write it.

      Delete
  33. Hi! Thank you so much for sharing your ideas about the Hunger Games casting. I had been feeling icky about feeling upset about the casting of Katniss, and then feeling strange about my frustration. You've given me a way to properly articulate some of the problems I was facing when learning about the cast. It's tough too because as a young woman and a person of color, I constantly feel silenced by my ideas of oppression and inequality, specifically racial oppression - either with others saying I'm taking things "too seriously" or that I've gotta "turn "it" off when watching Hollywood movies." "It" being my critical thinking lens and essentially my experiences as a person of color. Thanks again!

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    1. Thank you for commenting! I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. Please don't turn off that critical lens; people who tell you that aren't taking it seriously enough. :)

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  34. I think you're overlooking the agency of the reader in your discussion on the novels. When I read a book, I often put myself in the position of the protagonist. I see myself in them and their experiences. The wonderful thing about books is that the worlds created in the minds of readers are all different. No one views the same situations the same as the next person. They take different lessons and information from the struggles and descriptions. As I read the description of Katniss I remember drawing up the image of the girl from Pakistan with bright green eyes who covered in National Geographic. Of course, Katniss has grey eyes. And then my mind went to my younger sister who has white blond hair and light blue eyes with that same 'olive' skin tone (because she's out in the sun everyday). And then I flashed to my other sister with those same green eyes, but fair skin, freckles, and dark hair. I agree with your arguments about how the racialized characters were described by their skin tone, but how many people do you think pick apart the story like you have from a literary/POC perspective? When readers view characters in books, they of course picture themselves through the lens of their own experiences. And to be honest, by the end of the trilogy, I envisioned Katniss as a white (though tanned) girl with grey eyes and dark hair with freckles across the bridge of her nose (just like me). It's just a product of reading. It doesn't matter in the slightest what the intended message of a book/story was. The important part is what people take away from what they're given.

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  35. I think the Hunger Games definitely hits some nerves, but I really don't see her making a racial statement about oppression, but a much more inclusive statement about social classes and wealth. Those that have wealth, use the poor to maintain that wealth and stature.

    I think you are trying to make this a book about racial oppression. I don't see it. The Capitol had both white, black and olive people...as did all the districts..Have you ever read any books about the IRA and the struggle of the Irish to not be under British control? If you think oppression only an issue for people of color, you have some research to do and if you think the only people capable of oppression are white people, who are the oppressors in the Middle East, in China, in North Korea, to name just a few.

    Oppression isn't a WHITE disease..it can be performed by any RACE.

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    1. Actually, I said in my post that most people living under dictatorships and oppressive conditions are people of color. I never said all dictators are white :) That is your own bias showing through.

      Irish people were not considered "white" for some time; and that is part of their historical connection to oppression. Just because Irish people may be accepted as "white" now in some societies, that doesn't mean they were always considered white.

      Race is a social construct that evolves over history. Maybe you're the one who has some research to do :)

      Delete
  36. I found your point of view interesting, personally I pictured Katniss to be Hispanic, kind of Vanessa Hudgens skin tone. But to say that if Katniss was white then the books lose their meaning about fighting oppression and doing the right thing even in face of fear is offensive. Everyone in those districts was being oppressed regardless of their race. To say that all the Capital people are white, saying that white people will always be the oppressors and people of color will always be the oppressed. This book is not about race. Should black actor Lenny Kravitz not be playing Cinna since he is from the capitol? The story is not about race, it's about overcoming oppression and adversity.I realize that you probably didn't intend it, but I found your comments that the books lost meaning when Katniss was cast as white almost as offensive when that racist SOB tweeted that Rue' death was less sad when he realized that she was back.

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    1. Comparing me to racists who think that the lives of people who look differently are somehow worth less than others is beyond offensive to me. I was considering not publishing your comment. Please point out to me where I said that the lives of white characters mean less to me because of their race.

      I also never said all of the people from the Capitol are white, or that all oppressors are white, or that only white people oppress POCs etc. Please re-read what I wrote. Your own assumptions are showing through.

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  37. Before you comment, please be advised that I am no longer publishing comments that either a) repeat what has already been stated and addressed; b) deliberately puts words into my mouth; c) show a lack of knowledge or understanding about race or racism; or d) are rude, insulting and offensive.

    I have been more than polite in responding to and engaging with what people have said and in listing alternate viewpoints on this blog, yet I continue to get rude messages from people who do not read previous comments or who do not pause to think about what they're saying. In the spirit of informed, productive discussion, I will no longer be posting derailing comments.

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  38. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_skin
    "Olive skin describes a skin color range of some indigenous individuals who are from the Mediterranean and some other parts of Europe, Middle East and regions of South Asia, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. .... It may often be skin type 3 and 4 on the Fitzpatrick scale. However, this scale measures depth of skin color and reaction to UV rays, not hue of skin color."


    http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/04/07/hunger-games-suzanne-collins-gary-ross-exclusive/
    From and interview with Suzanne Collins (SC) and director Gary Ross (GR)
    "Some readers have expressed real frustration that white actors were cast in the roles of Katniss and Gale, who they felt were clearly described as biracial in the book. Do you understand or share any of that dismay Suzanne?
    SC: 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 I think I describe them as having dark hair, grey eyes, and sort of olive skin. You know, we have hair and makeup. But then there are some characters in the book who are more specifically described.
    GR: Thresh and Rue.
    SC: They’re African-American.
    So will those roles go to black actors?
    GR: Thresh and Rue will be African-American. It’s a multi-racial culture and the film will reflect that. But I think Suzanne didn’t see a particular ethnicity to Gale and Katniss when she wrote it, and that’s something we’ve talked about a lot. She was very specific about the qualities that these characters have and who they are as people. Having seen Josh and Liam and Jen perform these roles, that’s really the most important thing. They’re very much the characters to us."

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    1. Hi! I hope you don't mind if I reply to each of your posts separately. :)

      I find SC pretty disingenuous in this post. She says " 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." without acknowledging that most people who have "a lot of ethnic mixing" in their background are, in this day and age, considered multiracial or biracial people of color.

      Delete
  39. "the entire metaphor that runs through the book about oppression, hunger, and excess is meaningless if none of the main characters are people of color."
    - Enough people have already pointed out that oppression happens/has happened/will happen to all races at some point.
    - I counter that the themes of oppression, hunger, and excess are made more meaningful when the main characters are a race that is traditionally viewed as the oppressor, especially to people of that race.

    -you say that the book(s) "disallows compassion and empathy."
    -you then go on to describe the 'Northern readers', who I assume you mean are this oppressor race, feeling empathy for the conditions of the oppressed 'global South'.
    "Instead of Northern readers seeing themselves as in the position of the Capitol, they see themselves as the oppressed, hungry girl from District 12 striving against whatever form their oppressions individually take."

    Definition of EMPATHY: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy

    - So you state that people of the oppressor race(s) are feeling empathy for a character of the oppressed race(s). I say this is a good thing. To be able to feel empathy for another's situation is to begin to understand it and it's causes. In this case, the cause is an excessive, opulent, uncaring oppressor, which most people in America can also relate to as the super power of the world. Being able to imagine yourself as the oppressed, and to understand that your current life parallels that of the oppressor is a huge step in empathy and understanding.
    I truly feel that this was more likely Suzanne Collins's deeper intent. For people who are already in the 'oppressed' category, the book is an inspiring tale of revolution. For people in the 'oppressor' category, the book is a wake up call to the dangers of excess and the very real consequences of out-of-control power.
    I therefore do not agree with this statement;
    "The potential for using media and fiction to draw analogies to real life and potentially garner support for real, living people was lost."

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    1. Thanks for your thought out reply.

      When I say the Global North, I am referring to institutional power structures and organizations that contribute to ongoing oppression and oppressive conditions in the Global South. I do not mean an "oppressor race". Both of these categories encompass people of many different races.

      When I talk about empathy, I compared it to many people refusing to believe the N'avi's situation in Avatar could be analogized to the struggles and histories of indigenous peoples in the real world. From the posts on this blog and elsewhere, a small fraction of the readers seem to have developed the kind of "empathy" you describe. I disagree that "understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to" etc the feelings and struggles of persons living in conditions similar to the heroine in real life has actually occurred. Some readers get it, some do. But if Katniss were intended to be a POC (and people read her that way), I think a lot more people would "get it" (IF this was Collin's intention).

      "For people in the 'oppressor' category, the book is a wake up call to the dangers of excess and the very real consequences of out-of-control power."
      I think this would be awesome; I just don't think this has happened. You're more optimistic about this point than I am, which is awesome and I hope you're right in the end.

      Delete
  40. contd.
    -You say the book "feels like media from a culture that contributes to oppression throughout the world is re-writing a history to feed to children that writes me (and people who look like me) right out of it."
    - Collins explicitly states that this book takes place in the future.

    - I think the author does a pretty good job of making Katniss's race intentionally ambiguous by giving her physical qualities that could be applied to any race. In this way a person of any race can relate to Katniss and see themselves in her shoes either leading a revolution against their personal oppressors, or being oppressed at the hands of their own race/culture. Both are very powerful communications.

    - You assert that 'olive' skin tone implies 'non-white'. Most people I think would disagree. I think 'olive' can mean non-white, but I do not agree that it necessarily means non-white.

    "Even if you buy into the logic that most people with light/blonde hair and blue eyes we see in western media are white, then isn’t it fair to say that most “olive” people we see in western media are people of color?"
    - Most 'olive' people in the media (based on my definition of olive) are people of Mediterranean or Hispanic decent. But your argument depends on your definition of 'olive' skin. I would argue that 'olive' skin has been used historically to describe people of southern European and Mediterranean decent. This is the most common definition. Colloquially it refers to one's ability to achieve and keep a tan. More recently it has come to mean people with a warm skin tone with gold or yellow undertones (where the veins appear more green through the skin) as opposed to a cool skin tone with pink undertones (where the veins appear more blue through the skin). This more broad definition can be applied to any race. Look at makeup shades for instance, many are classified on a warmth scale across all shades.

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    1. "Collins explicitly states that this book takes place in the future" - this doesn't matter. Avatar takes place outside of our world; that doesn't mean there aren't pretty obvious analogies or direct situations taken from our real world.

      I agree that Katniss's race is ambiguous; this is an argument for why I read her as a POC. I said "olive" implies non-white not because no white people have olive skin, but because of how it is used in the book: white characters don't have racial markers (we assume they are white), but Katniss frequently draws attention to her racial marker.

      Regarding what "olive" means. You use terms like "historically", "colloquially", "common". This is in your history, your colloquialism, and your idea of what is "common". Race and racialization changes throughout society, so I don't want to argue with you about there being more olive skinned WOC in the media I consume. We just have different experiences.

      In any case, you're saying she can be white or a POC. Fair point; the idea that she is racially ambiguous seems to be the accepted interpretation on the internet now. The idea that she is definitely white is also pretty widely written about, so I don't deny that interpretation exists.

      Delete
  41. contd. 1
    -Your assesment;
    "Katniss in the books
    'Straight black hair, olive skin, we even have the same gray eyes. But we’re not related, at least not closely. Most of the families who work the mines resemble one another this way.'
    In the books, our heroine Katniss Everdeen is invariably described as having “olive” skin, grey eyes and black hair."

    - I've already explained my definition of 'olive' skin above, and it's application to all races.
    - People of all races can have black hair.

    "But people of color don’t have grey eyes/white parents; and white people (like Prim) don’t have fathers of color.
    Yes, many can and do."

    - I agree. 'Gray eyes are most common in Northern and Eastern Europe.[48] Gray eyes can also be found in parts of North West Africa (Aurès Mountains) among the Algerian Shawia people[49] and in the Middle East, most notably in Iran, Afghanistan (the Indo-Iranian Nuristani people), and Pakistan (the Kalasha, another Indo-Iranian people).' taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_color#Gray

    - Overall, you bring up a good point about people of color and the everyday reality of worldwide oppression being ignored in the media. I don't think, however, that THG is as good an example of this as you would like. In fact, as I have argued above, I think it does a lot more to further understanding of hunger, oppression, excess, and the consequences thereof than it does to diminish it.

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  42. contd. 2

    - you say "Collins is telling us: people will rebel against oppression..." - I agree that she does.
    "...brown-skinned people do want political power..." - She never directly or indirectly states anything this straightforward about a certain race and their political desires.
    "...it is wrong for rich, excessive cultures to benefit from the desperate, oppressive conditions of “others”." - I agree that she does.
    - These are all messages that have no bearing on whether or not Katniss is white, black, asian, arab, indian, or any other race. They do however rely on the economic differences of the Capitol versus the Districts. This is the more important takeaway from the book; That having wealth and power when the cost is poverty and hunger for everyone else, is wrong. That idea transcends race, or at least it should. The reality is that in our world, wealth usually corresponds to certain races, and poverty to others. I again assert that this makes the book's message that much more powerful.
    One must also keep in mind the race of the author. As a white American, she can only write a book from the viewpoint of a white American. She does not have the same view of the world as someone like yourself who is (I'm assuming black?) and not American. You therefore have to view the book through her 'lens' and take from it what you can to fit your own personal 'camera'. For you to have an emotion as strong as hate for a book just because the actress cast to play the protagonist in a film adaptation is not what you imagined is quite an intense reaction. I really hope that my arguments can help you see the book from a different viewpoint so that you can once again feel the same joy you initially felt when reading it.
    You appear to be a student getting a degree in literature or something of the like, and it seems you have taken some logic or debate classes as well. In the clinical sense, if all your assumptions and definitions were true, you have a sound argument. But in the real world, a successful argument is judged not only by the flow of logic, but also the truth of the assertions and assumptions. Make sure you are basing things on fact and not opinion as much as possible. This will make for better arguments, and less emotional responses.

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    1. You're right; she doesn't directly say anything about race/political desires. I said "Collins is telling us" to show what she would be saying in my interpretation. Apologies if that was unclear.

      Your big point seems to be that this is about class rather than race. Teresa Jusino makes a similar point in the comment thread on her post. You might find it interesting to read. Personally, I think Collins replicates the correlation between race and class in District 12 and in the storyworld in general looking at how conditions worsen corresponding with skin tone (i.e. District 11).

      "As a white American, she can only write a book from the viewpoint of a white American." That's not true. White authors can definitely write stories with protagonists who are POC.

      "For you to have an emotion as strong as hate for a book just because the actress cast to play the protagonist in a film adaptation is not what you imagined is quite an intense reaction." I don't hate the books because Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss. I said I would hate the books if Katniss was never intended to be POC and the metaphor does not exist; because it would be like every other story out there that looks at the conditions of the world, draws on them, sees POC at the centre, and makes the main character a white person. That does feel like the fiction world is writing POC out of existence. For example, Avatar seems a pretty obvious commentary on indigenous histories (and often realities), yet the "POC" in that film were the alien N'avi. When we see movies that take a look at this on Earth, the protagonist is often white (Dancing with Wolves, for example). I don't like or appreciate that, and it is my prerogative to do so :)

      Thank you for your comment. It was nice having someone actually engage with what I'm saying rather than the reactionary messages I usually get. For context, I wrote this post over a year ago when *no one* was acknowledging that Katniss could be a WOC. The dialogue has shifted now to a lot of readers acknowledging the ambiguity and some agreeing she is a WOC.

      Finally, I find it hilarious that you make assumptions about my race and educational background before lecturing me on assumptions :) Take your own advice. Also, this is not a paper for a class; this is a blog post where I can be as emotional as I want.

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  43. I have dark hair, olive skin, I live in Appalachia, I'm white.

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  44. Its 3am and I'm sleepy, so this rant will probably be all over the place.. Hopefully it makes sense :)

    The books are based on a future north america.. Different colored Americans have been living together for years now and while there is still racisim, it gets better all the time. Mainly its the older generations that are racist, the younger generations (mine) grew up around poc and didn't know any different. I would think that with this story being set so far in the future (at least 100 years, minimum) people of so many different colors and backgrounds would be so used to living together that race really wouldn't be an issue, meaning that the Capitol would oppress a white person the exact same amount as a colored person. They do distinguish different cultures, as there are 13 different districts all with different looks and culture. I would be upset if katniss had come from maybe district 2, where the Capitol treats the citizens better, but she doesn't, she comes from 12 which is pretty low on the totem pole. I like to think that people would have evolved by then to the point of the more oppressed district not being about skin color. If I look around my neighborhood right now, about half is white, half colored, and it's like that everywhere I go. I think when panem was structured they would have kept people as mixed as they already were and not taken the effort to separate them into districts by color. Yes, colored people were oppressed, but why are you so set on that being the continued future? See past race. When you are talking about class, and not skin color, katniss comes from an oppressed district. Why does it matter what color skin she has? 

    Wikipedia's definition for olive skin: olive skin describes a skin color range of some indigenous individuals who are from the Mediterranean and some other parts of europe, middle east and regions of south Asia, southeast Asia and central Asia. May often be skin type 3 and 4 on the fitzpatrick scale. (type 3: beige. Type 4: beige with a brown tint; typical Mediterranean Caucasian skin)

    I think katniss was meant to be olive, as she was described. Just as rue was meant to be black, as she was described. Some writers really like to leave things up to your imagination. They describe the main characters in detail, but if it's a minor character, they usually will briefly describe them but leave most of it for you to picture how you want to. Why bother to give you a specific image of someone when that character won't even be around that much. It distracts from the story if you are constantly being pulled away for physical descriptions of everyone. So I don't agree with saying that any character missing a color description was automatically meant to be white.

    Hunger games is an amazing story, picture the characters whatever color skin you want to and enjoy it. Writers really do leave alot to the imagination. I can't think of a single book that doesnt have multiple ways you can read in to it. If the writer wants you to only see things ONE way, he/she will probably make it very clear in the writing. 

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  45. I'd just like to say, I found this really interesting. I actually posted on my blog a few days ago asking a question about why everyone was talking about white-washing, as half my family have olive skin tones, and yet we are all white (and in fact my and my younger sibling have very similar colouring to Katniss and Prim). What I then found out (that the casting call was only for caucasian women) then explained it for me.

    I think it would of been possible for Katniss to be anywhere between white to a much darker skin tone, but for them to completely cut out the possiblity of finding an actress to play Katniss who had a darker skin tone was most definitely white-washing. I think that in itself is worse than the fact that it ended up being jennifer Lawrence, a white woman, who played Katniss. If it had been a casting call for all women who could fit an olive skin tone, and Jennifer Lawrence had still ended up getting the part (and let us just pretend in this illusion that if that had happened there would not of been and preference for white among the casting directors, which there obviously was), then I don't think I would of called that white-washing. But obviously that didn't happen. I do think Jennifer portrays Katniss very well, and am quite happy with the cast, although I feel like there should of been more of a mix of race among the tributes (as you said, it was sort of 'white unless proven otherwise', which is fine with central characters, since we get a description of them, but for some of the less central tributes I felt like there should of been a wider range of skin tones).

    Anyway, really interesting post. Also, without sounding weird, if Alexiel is your real name, it's an awesome name, and quite close to mine (Alexia). I only really mention this since I've never met someone with a similar name structure who isn't called Alexis or Alexa (which is what everyone calls me by mistake). But yeah. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Alexia, thank you for your thoughtful comment :) It's not my real name, unfortunately! It's actually a character from Angel Sanctuary, a manga that I read when I was in high school.

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  46. Alexiel, I appreciate your thoughtful blog entry. Personally, I don't think it's conclusive whether or not Katniss is "white," since "olive" is ambiguous, but I tend to imagine her as a Native American.

    In any case, I agree that the references to skin color are important, especially in light of the fact that people in the Capitol can alter any aspect of their appearance. In those circumstances, skin color is a significant reminder to the people of the districts that they are not privileged persons who can be any color they please. I also think it's significant that the people most explicitly described as non-white are from the poorer districts (11 and 12), which might imply a correlation between skin color and privilege. At the very least, these references to color don't seem arbitrary. I think this all lends support to your argument that Katniss's olive skin is part of a metaphor for global oppression, especially when the Capitol sounds eerily like parts of North America (where plastic surgery is awfully popular), and the districts bring to mind third world children laboring in sweat shops and diamond minds and (as you point out) dying in wars against America.

    I am curious what you think about one dimension of this story. (Assuming you're still reading these comments!) You write, "If Collins intended this metaphor, and Katniss is a white girl with skin somewhat darker than her mother, then I hate this book: because then Collins is deliberately appropriating the struggles of millions and placing white protagonists in places where people of color should be (and in reality, are)." But if Katniss isn't white, isn't Collins appropriating the struggles of people of color for the purposes of narrative, to sell books? That is, wouldn't we then have a white person (Collins) speaking as a POC (Katniss) and thereby silencing the voices of actual persons of color? Uncle Tom's Cabin comes to mind. It may be a sympathetic project, but it would be another example of a white person co-opting the experiences of oppressed people and making it their own, which seems to me to be morally ambiguous at best, no matter how good the intentions are.

    (Disclosure: I'm a white woman). Thanks!

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. That's a really interesting question!

      I don't know if I have a clear answer. Phrasing it another way, if Katniss is a POC, is Collins able to walk the fine line between a story analogizing modern day conditions and appropriation?

      Part of me thinks it depends a lot on the context of the story-world, and how much actual "insight" into the experiences of oppressed peoples the author claims to have. In the case of THG, I don't think Katniss being a POC was the major -selling- point, and it wasn't really a story marketed or told in a way that claims authenticity to a culture, oppression or experience or authority to speak on someone's behalf*. In my head, I am comparing this to Memoirs of a Geisha which was written, marketed and sold under the idea that it provided some "insight" into a culture or experience. My first instinct is that THG seems to walk the fine line between appropriation and modern day metaphor by using it as the background to her own story conflicts which are the forefront. She doesn't seem to be claiming insight, although she does seem to be working within that metaphor.

      Is it possible for white authors to write characters of color without appropriating their experiences? I think so, yes. I think of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, for example. His race and station in life was part of the story (and important to the story), but it wasn't the central focus and Bronte didn't claim to "know" his feelings. Is it possible for a white author to write a story with analogies to modern day issues that are racialized? I think so; I think of the muggles in Harry Potter (full disclosure: I didn't read them, so I could be wrong) and how politicized "bloodlines" were and how this can be analogized to numerous racialized issues on both sides of the Atlantic. But THG would have the added layer of our figurative Hermoine being of color. So, could Collins do it in a way that is not an appropriation (as opposed to Avatar which seems to be a straight up appropriation and silencing or refusal to address the realities of our world)? I have no idea!

      Your comment gave me so much to think about!! Sorry if I am unclear, I haven't had my coffee yet :) If you see this, I'd love to continue this conversation with you!

      *Full disclosure: These truths/metaphors seem like common sense to me. I am not starting to learn that they may not be as "common" as I thought, as I am shaped by my own experiences. I believe white authors can make reference to world structures that unfair/oppressive and racialized; but I didn't see this as "silencing" as I thought it was an obvious truth that they are unfair/oppressive and racialized. In so far as she may be bringing a new truth to her audience, maybe it isn't a "common sense" type of analogy where the reader can be presumed to already know it, and thus becomes an appopriation that negates/silences the voices that have been saying it all along.

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  47. We are all people. I hate when people are always saying how white people are so oppressive. Do you know who is opressing the people in the south? Rich people or people with power/guns. No "race" is needed to describe the oppressors. I admit that my country is like the capitol in a lot of ways, but america is not all white. There are a ton of other "races" as well. I'm olive skinned, I'm predominately caucasian, but one of my grandparents is a mix of all the main ethnic groups, so I have a bit of that in my blood. I don't like referring to an ethnic group as a race, because its not. We are the same specie, we are the human race. If you hate racism so much, start with yourself and stop stereotyping other people and hating a book because of its movie. I can understand, have empathy for, and feel the pain of "PoC" because I'm human, they are human, and people hurt people all the time. Oh and stop complaining about the under representation of "PoC" in the movie business. If you don't like it, why don't you become an actress? or write a great book about women who aren't caucasian? If you can't seem to do that, then please stop complaining and go else where.

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    1. It's my blog, so I don't have to go anywhere :) You're right, ethnicity is not race; "race" IS a social construct, I 100% agree with you - sorry if I didn't make that clear. I don't agree with you that ignoring race will make racism go away. Thanks for your comment.

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  48. I do realize that you wrote this article well over a year ago and your opinions might be different now. While I respect your opinion expressed in the blog, let me politely disagree. First let me tell you that reading what you wrote saddened me. Just as reading online about how people were upset about Rue being African American in the movie made me really angry.

    I do think that there is some potential ambiguity in the racial description of Katniss, just as there is some potential ambiguity in the racial description of Rue (I will explain). But I do think Suzanne Collins probably imagined Katniss to be Caucasian with olive skin and Rue to be African American. But she probably did not want to upset many fans by saying this so she basically never said that explicitly in an interview. She did say though that Jennifer Lawrence fit best the mental image she had of Katniss, so yeah...

    Katniss' sister is blonde with blue eyes and white skin, so Caucasian. It is very unlikely from a genetic point of view (though not impossible) that if you have a father that is even part Black or Asian that one of the daughters will have blonde hair and blue eyes. So yeah, sure Prim could be some genetic anomaly, but it is more likely that Katniss' dad is Caucasian (Hispanic or Middle Eastern is also Caucasian). For whatever reason Suzanne Collins chose not to say this explicitly (perhaps because it should not matter), but I do think that it is most likely that Katniss would be Caucasian. Since Prim and Katniss are sisters and Prim is blonde with blue eyes, I think it makes sense at least for the movie that they would want to look for a Caucasian actress to play Katniss. In your head you can imagine Katniss whatever race you want, Suzanne Collins gave you that flexibility.

    Similarily, I think Suzanne Collins imagined Rue to be African American, but chose not to say this explicitly (probably because in 300 years from now people won't be describing each other by race; if anything they might refer to how dark or how light your skin is, just like Katniss does). Dark skin could also be Indian - from the country of India, not Native American (I know Indian people who have skin just as dark as any African Americans) or Middle Eastern (again I know Middle Easterners who have really dark skin, even though they are not racially considered black). Honestly, being upset about Katniss being white in the movie is in my opinion just as bad as being upset about Rue being black. Sure, they had potentially other options, they could have made Rue Indian or Middle Eastern with dark skin, but they chose her to be African American. Who cares? I certainly don't. Same goes for Katniss.

    Anyways, I think in the book race does NOT matter. I think the idea of "African American" or "Asian" would be completely eradicated from their culture. They barely remember as a society that their country was once called North America, you think they would remember that Black people came from Africa? Katniss describes people by how light or dark their skin is, but that's it. I don't think there is a concept of race in this futuristic society. Sure, we could describe the people in this futuristic society in terms of what we now call races, but that is certainly NOT the point of the books. And I think Suzanne Collins made that very clear.

    Anyways, I sincerely hope you did change your opinion since you wrote your post. I am not saying that race does not matter today and that more Black or Asian people shouldn't be cast in leading roles. But to hate on this particular movie/book because they cast Jennifer (or were looking for a Caucasian person) as leading actress is in my opinion ridiculous.

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  49. In Mokingjay, Katniss describes herself after fire bomb:

    "The skin grafts still retain a new-born baby pinkness. The skin deemed damaged but salvageable looks red, hot, and melted in places. Patches of my former self gleam white and pale. I'm like a bizarre patchwork quilt of skin."

    Could Katniss been played by an actress with more ethnic diversity? Sure. Did she have to be? No.

    Much of the book deals with the manipulation of and by the media for political and financial purposes. Movie making is a business and casting is always going to reflex that. It doesn't stop me from enjoying Jennifer Lawrence in the role.

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    1. I have brown skin. When I was burned, patches of my skin where I was burned were also white. I have a pale scar in my eyebrow, ten years later, much lighter than the rest of my complexion. And I'm darker than "olive". So I don't think that passage means Katniss is white.

      I assume by your last line you mean that people won't watch a movie with a WOC protagonist. If that's what you mean, just say it - don't imply it. Implying it doesn't disguise the racism.

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  50. Hi Alexiel, I read this blogpost about a year ago and didn't comment, but I just wanted to say thank you for your detailed and brilliant breakdown of why racial oppression is integral for THG narrative to function on a meaningful level (ESPECIALLY since it's envisioning post-apocalyptic USA ans race and class are so glaringly intertwined in US society).
    I went through some of these comments and the whitesplaining is simply MIND BLOWING. Yet none of them seem to be able to explain why if Katniss is meant to be 'ambiguous' did the casting directors want only caucasian actresses or why when it comes to issues like this is it always 'white until proven otherwise' (Cleopatra comes to mind).
    Also, being upset that Katniss was whitewashed is nowhere even in the same galaxy as the racist outrage over Rue and the fact that people are arguing this with a straight face reveals just how much whitewashed media has skewed our perspective of power relations.

    Anyways, kudos to you for the wit and grace with which you've handled these comments. Your post needs more love! xoxox

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    1. AWWW THANK YOU!!! I appreciate it. <3

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  51. I think that Katniss would have been best portrayed by a actor of color for a huge panoply of reasons, but your specific reason leaves me a bit confused and I think your argument breaks down a bit on further interrogation.

    Again, I read Katniss as a woman of color and certainly think she should have been cast as such, but it seems pretty clear to me that Collins made an active choice to represent what are largely racialized dynamics of oppression in the real world (global North vs. global South) in in a very consciously and explicitly non-racial way by making both the Capitol and the districts racially diverse and positing people of all races as both oppressors and the oppressed. It seems strange, when discussing a metaphor, to insist that despite the definition of the literary tool, one specific aspect of the metaphor must be a literal reproduction of the thing it is meant to represent.

    While I think there is certainly a strong critique to be made regarding Collins's theoretical (although sadly it seems to be actual at this point) choice to create a metaphor that refers to real world dynamics that turn in such a large part on race using a white character, I really don't think the metaphor for the real world struggles you are referring to somehow completely disappears in that case, that the story you are talking about is no longer being told, or that we are left with only a book about "sensationalism and reality TV with some glorified child-soldiering thrown in."

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  52. I agree with those who mentioned the correlation with Appalachia. I've heard this comparison with the Seam many times and I believe them to be one in the same. If you knew the history and culture of this area, than you would understand the features of Katniss Everdeen. I also have ancestry from Appalachia. The people who migrated and lived here are from a blended pool, but are mostly of European ancestry. There were Native Americans and African Americans who married into the European families, but the area was heavily of European descendt. I do not believe the author intended to make a racial statement, instead a socio-economical one. I suggest researching Appalachia, and if you're interested in the genetic mixing there, than look specifically at the Melungeons. They are a group of mixed African, European, and Native American ancestry, are scattered across northeastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern Virginia. You'll see a great deal of differences in the skin tones of white natives of this broad area, and not just pale skinned people. My own skin is not peachy nor pink, light nor dark, and it doesn't quite fit the olive complexion of Africa and Asia either. But I can see someone perceiving this skin tone as "olive". I'd like to note also that many of the working class traditionally spend time in the sun, so that would darken the skin.

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  53. I completely agree with your analysis. Suzanne Collins did not bother to mention skin color unless she meant that the person was particularly pale (from illness) or else as a descriptor of a PoC. Katniss WAS a WoC, whether the racists want to admit it or not. I only wish Hollywood wasn't so f'ing racist and had actually let WoCs audition for the part of Katniss. (The casting call said 'Caucasian actresses only'.)

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  54. People, Katniss is Greek. She is obviously white (olive toned skin doesn't change the fact that she is, the author stated so herself).
    Katniss obviously got the greek features from her father. There are many greeks that have those looks in real life and the author once stated that she based Katniss on the Greek Mythology Theasus, and that she is the 'modern theasus in the book.'
    Plus the way the Seam people live and all is similar to how the greeks live.

    Anyways...

    What is this rubbish on Katniss is a women of colour?
    Just because Collins described her as olive toned skin doesn't mean she isn't white. Heck, I have olive toned skin and black hair and I'm WHITE.

    But I have to admit, The movie should have chosen a better actress than Jenn. I mean Jennifer Lawrence? Are those people serious about her playing the role? She doesn't look anything like Katniss.

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    1. Where did Collins say "Katniss is white"? I have only seen comments vaguely saying that Katniss is from a future where there is a lot of racial mixing. In today's terms, that means a multiracial person. In today's terms, that person is more race than one (so, by definition, not just white), and thus can identify as a POC. Please direct me to this quote, I would like to see it.

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  55. What does it matter what color she is? Black, white, asian, or in bewtween, she's still Katniss to me.

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  56. While I do sometimes wonder if Katniss was meant to be a bit darker skinned, you also have to take in the fact that just because you're white doesn't mean you can't struggle in poverty and such. The Hunger Games were based off of North America, and there are a lot of references to the United States' history. Rue and Thresh clearly came from the south as a reference to slavery, they worked in fields and if caught eating they would be whipped. To ignore this would be stupid. Katniss and all of District 12 is what you'd assume is the Appalachian mountains, where dangerous coal mining has always been prevalent. These people tended to be either European or Native American.
    You have to realize that The Hunger Games is based off of just North America, and references mostly United States history, and the sorts of poverty found through out it in it's history, from factory workers to slavery to coal miners. Suzanne Collins wrote realistically based off of this, and wrote a realistic character from what we would assume is a coal mining town.
    You speak of racism as a terrible thing, and yet you deem an entire series as terrible because it's leading character is white. How much sense does that make?
    Her last name is Everdeen, by the way, which is english.

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