I'm excited about the Hunger Games movies. I probably shouldn't be - I've been burned a little too often by books-turned-to-movies. And I'm most disappointed when books I loved turn out to be lackluster films, and my love for The Hunger Games movie - casting for Katniss The Hunger Games burns like a thousand fiery suns! Okay, fan-girl moment over.... So the latest news for the upcoming trilogy is that Katniss has finally been cast - just a couple of days ago Jennifer Lawrence of Winter's Bone won the role.
I'm a chronically slow movie-goer, and I have yet to see Winter's Bone. I've been told by several other librarians who've been abuzz over the casting that Lawrence does an excellent job and they can easily picture her playing Katniss. Winter's Bone incorporated elements of survival, and Lawrence learned how to skin squirrels, chop wood, and fight in preparation for the part. Personally, I was rooting for Hailee Steinfeld to win the part, after seeing her in True Grit. I liked the way that Steinfeld played Mattie - self-reliant, strong, and optimistic in the face of tremendous odds. But still, I guess I'll need to watch Winter's Bone and see Lawrence for myself.
There's been some backlash from fans of the series since Lawrence was announced. When the casting call originally went out, it was for the following type of actress: "She should be Caucasian, between ages 15 and 20, who could portray someone ‘underfed but strong,' and ‘naturally pretty underneath her tomboyishness.'" Now, race is not a prominent issue in the series. However, Katniss's description (and that of the people living in District 12) is plainly given to readers - she has olive skin, gray eyes, and dark straight hair. Katniss stands out against her mother's and sister's fair hair and light eyes. We do find out that her mother was part of a merchant family and, if memory serves me, from a different district. If you've read the books you'll also remember the culture shock Katniss suffers when she first arrives in the Capitol; the fashion is ostentatious, skin pigmentation is popular, and there are foods beyond Katniss's wildest dreams. So while Collins never blatantly states that Katniss is of such-and-such an ethnicity, we do see the cultural disparity between the districts themselves and the Capitol. This is a major element in the stories and the issue of race is a part of that.
So if Collins is fairly clear about Katniss's appearance, why did the casting call go out for only Caucasian actresses? That's what many fans and the media are asking. Lawrence is 20 years old, blond, and definitely white - she'll most likely be in her mid-20s by the time the series is finished, playing a 16-17 year old. We've seen other books-to-movies ignore source material to go for primarily white casts (The Last Airbender, anyone?). So will The Hunger Games suffer from a similar white-washing? I'm disappointed that the casting call was so narrow - I don't think there's a reason to exclude actresses because they are of a different ethnicity, particularly when the author gave us the impression that Katniss may be. I want to see a movie with excellent actors who stay true to the characters I've fallen for - why narrow the scope of your search to just white? This was an opportunity for teens (and, well, the rest of us) to see a female lead who kicks butt and doesn't fit the stereotype of pretty, blond, and white. Are we that concerned about an audience being unable to identify or enjoy an actress who may be of mixed ethnicity?
If you'd like to do a little more reading on the topic, check out Racebending.com's or Jezebel's articles on the casting. This is by no means a new trend in film-making or even in the publishing world. And feel free to post your thoughts on the issue!