The Hunger Games is on the American Library Association’s frequently challenged books list for 2012 (which is based on challenges from 2011). Not too surprising, considering the violence. What is interesting is that one of the reasons the ALA website lists is the fact that THG is “anti-ethnic,” an accusation that does not appear on the previous list (challenges from 2010). When I first heard about it, I laughed. The only people who were being anti-ethnic were those fans who complained about Rue and Cinna’s casting. But is there a point?
If you take Suzanne Collins’ words in an interview with EW, then Katniss and everyone in District 12 are white, despite being described as having “straight black hair” and “olive skin” (pg. 8); traits common in every race on the planet. So in all of North America, only a handful of characters are described as having color, and those people all come from District 11. The rest of the characters have been defaulted to white by most readers (including myself, I should admit). Today, minority births outnumber whites. Yet in Collins’ version of America, we can say for sure that The Hunger Games only contains two characters of color*.
But does that make the book “anti-ethnic”? And what does the ALA mean when they say anti-ethnic? Is it the lack of POCs, how they are represented or both? With the casting of Rue and Thresh, I read comments saying how it’s racist that Rue will be swinging from trees like a monkey. The fact that District 11 is an agricultural sector, where people basically work like slaves, also didn’t sit well with readers. And then there are the character arcs for Rue and Thresh. I read a post that said how the tributes from District 11 are only there to solely help Katniss- Rue pointing out the tracker jacker nest and healing Katniss’ wounds; Thresh saving Katniss from Clove -thus making them magical negroes.
Collins definitely wasn’t interested in writing a book full of racially diverse characters, but I don’t think it’s fair to call The Hunger Games anti-ethnic. Aside from District 11 and 12, Collins rarely described the skin colors for other characters. For all we know, Cinna could have been black in the original story and not just for the film. The same goes for the other tributes of color in the movie
that were all killed off within seconds of the Games starting.
But that’s just me. Any thoughts?
*Just want to make it clear that I’m only talking about the first book; not the film adaptation, Catching Fire or Mockingjay.
Updated: Because of Writing Fail’s comment, I went back and reread that interview from EW and Collins never said she was white, just wasn’t biracial. But she still doesn’t seem to want to refer to Katniss as a WOC.:
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.
Sorry about that.