Recently, I read The Hunger Games. I had heard the books were good and the movie was impending so I decided to get through them now. When I finished them I went to see the movie and was surprised to see that Rue was being played by a black girl1. Granted, in the book she’s described as having “dark brown skin” so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Maybe it’s my fault for not having superb reading comprehension. Nonetheless, I was surprised and expressing that surprise led me into a back-and-forth on Twitter that resulted in a tweet of mine being retweeted by a few others, likely to demonstrate that I am an ignorant racist fool.
You may question my above remark about requiring “superb reading comprehension” but I think it is a fair assessment of the situation. I don’t know how it works for others, but I don’t think much about the way things look when I am reading books. Most of my dreams are vaguely formed, often with vistas and scenery only there when being directly observed. I can’t speak to how anybody else remembers, or dreams, or visualizes when reading. And I don’t. But others have chosen to when it comes to me. This bothers me.
Rue is described as having dark brown skin. Once. She is compared to another character with dark brown skin shortly afterward. So there are two reference points from which you can visualize her as black. Those came at a point when she is not known to be an important character, so they carried less weight with me. Additionally, when she is otherwise described in the book, she is compared to Katniss’ sister Prim, who is a young blonde white girl. Katniss is frequently reminded of Prim when in the Arena with Rue. If you’ve already successfully internalized that Rue is black, you can take that as a sign that Rue and Prim are similar in behaviour and personality. If you have not yet successfully internalized that fact, it reinforces the idea that Rue is a waifish young white girl.
I don’t think I need to be chastised for missing that fact, and I don’t think I need to be accused of having a racist mind because of it, or lacking in reading comprehension. I know better now, and it will enrich the book should I ever read it again2. But the condescension I’ve seen on Twitter and elsewhere is a little galling. Not that this little venting will change anybody’s mind.
- Not surprised in the way many racist people on Twitter were surprised, such that it “ruined” the movie for them. I simply noted that I hadn’t pictured Rue as black and moved on with my life. [↩]
- It’s also possible I would’ve caught the race factor the second time I read the books without seeing the movies; I can’t really speak to that. [↩]