Hunger Games has a lesson
I recently saw the movie, based on the book by Suzanne Collins. Hunger Games, as a movie, is visually pretty good and does capture the main premise of the book quite well. Granted, just as with any book to movie, there are some things that just don’t translate well from the written word into visual settings. Still, read the book first, then watch the movie. One will not detract from the other, and try to withhold the urge to scream at the screen “BUT THAT WASN’T IN THE BOOK”. It is a method of self muzzling that I learned for myself many years ago.
Hunger Games is essentially a dystopian future where children are thrust into an arena to survive and fight to the death. All of this broadcast on television for the viewing pleasure of the mass audience. If that were suggested in today’s world, the person who suggested it would be carted off to the funny farm. Though, the idea in Hunger Games isn’t too far off what we see now.
We do live in an MTV world, where reality television has taken hold quite fast. Survivor, Britain/America/Canada’s Got Talent (and most likely other countries as well), American/Canadian Idol, Fear Factor, and many others that have become a mainstay of television. Especially in the western world. And most of our television viewing is pretty white washed.
So, you may inquire how did I go from Hunger Games and it’s MTV style gladiator arena pitting children against children to any issue like race? If I have to fully explain, then some have been living under a rock. Even I consider myself a hermit and I get out enough to realize what’s going on in the world. But, seeing how this is an editorial, and before I fully dive into this subject there needs to be some clarification. Some context, as one might say.
Hunger Games has many unique and varied characters. Collins goes so far as to give detailed descriptions of the tributes that will take part in the games. Including a young girl named Rue. Rue, in the book, is described as such, which is found on Page 45 of the Scholastic Edition of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (first printing Scholastic, copyright 2009 Scholastic Press, 2008 hardcover Scholastic Press), or my way of saying LOOK IT UP!:
And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor.
Dark Brown Skin. DARK BROWN SKIN! How much clearer does that need to be? You might ask, why is that description needed about this one character. Because Rue happens to be the target and subject of some of the most overt, stupid racism I’ve ever seen. The Twitterverse is abuzz with how they were sad Rue died UNTIL THEY FOUND OUT SHE WAS BLACK! HOW MORE FUCKING RACIST IS THAT? It’s also not just a small incident retweeted by one or two people. It’s so bad that there’s now a tumblr that displays these messages of ignorance.
This is not any different than what fans of Avatar The Last Airbender went through (no, not Avatar, Title That James Cameron Stole For Land of the Blue People). The creators of the show had done a great deal of research into cultural backgrounds from China, Tibet, India, Viet Nam and the Northern Inuit. When you watch the animated series, you get the proper feeling that these people are all from a different culture and you’re following them through their world.
Then came the movie.
Try to imagine that said in an ominous voice with something akin to a funeral dirge or the Imperial Death March.
There was so much white washing of the main cast, with the exception of the villains. Is this what movie goers want? Everything to be white? Is that why it took so long to get Red Tails off the ground? Because it was a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen? The only black squadron of fighter pilots to fly during the Second World War? How is that not an interesting movie?
And now we’ve got Hunger Games which includes this sudden apathy toward a character who dies because she happens to be black. She’s 12! And forced to fight in a televised event! For her life! KILL OR BE KILLED! DID I MENTION SHE’S FUCKING 12? Skin colour should be the absolute last thing a person thinks about. This is a young girl, the youngest of all the tributes from a poor district in the book. Forced to fight or die, all for the thrill of the upper class entertainment.
I’m not saying we should all become colour blind. But we had damn well better become more aware of issues regarding race that surround us everyday. When we (and I use the Royal We for me and all other white people, I don’t care if you have black/gay/lesbian/east indian/native american/mexican friends/relatives) make flippant, off handed comments about “oh, I was sad about Rue’s death until I saw she was black”, we need to check our privilege. We need to understand that what we are typing/saying is incredibly racist, and we’re setting the bar back to the early 1900s (or in some cases even earlier). How can we on one hand say that we’ve come so far since the civil rights movement of the 60s, and then spout garbage like that? It only proves we haven’t come very far at all.
Hunger Games can teach us a lot. But in a lot of cases, it’s what it can teach us about ourselves that matters most.