When I read THE HUNGER GAMES last year, I was absolutely emotionally drained by the time I finished and could not wait to read the next two books in the series. There were several scenes in the book that had my flipping pages as fast as I could, but one scene made me stop reading so I could weep.
It was the death of Rue. The thought of this sweet little girl dying so horribly in the hunger games just ripped my heart out. I had hoped that Katniss would find some way to save her, but Rue died a terribly sad death. When I saw this scene in the movie, I cried again. It matched my imagination almost perfectly. Amandla Stenberg as Rue was the essence of the character in appearance and aura. Her sweet, delicate, innocent face just tugged at my heart strings the second I saw her. Out of all the casting in the movie, I felt Rue's was the absolute best.
|Just look at that beautiful sweet face...|
I was completely floored when I became aware of the Twitterverse exploding with angry, racist comments about Rue.
I was floored. I just couldn't wrap my mind around this comment and the many more like it. (check out Hunger Games Tweets on Tumber by clicking here.)
Yet, it appears many people were incensed over Rue being accurately portrayed in the movie by a young girl of black heritage.
Does Rue not being white suddenly make her death less powerful?
Of course not!
|A fan film portrayed Rue as blond and blue eyed.|
Or maybe they just assumed that every character in the book was white.
As a writer, I often feel the need to clarify the ethnicity or race of a character and make it CLEAR in their descriptions. The reason for this is because I slowly became aware of internal white-washing of characters by readers. While reading the forums of popular series, I stumbled across some arguments over certain characters appearances. Did so and so's dark brown skin and curly hair mean they were black? Did their pale skin, straight black hair and slightly tilted eyes mean they were Asian? I was bothered by some posters who said if one particular male character was black, they no longer were interested in the series. I was also just as bothered by characters who were supposedly people of color or an ethnicity other than Anglo-Saxon, that were painted with the worst of stereotypes. It was just as worrisome when authors went out of their way not to state the race of a character and ended up describing people in very offensive manners. I remember one woman in a novel being described as having a big round face, always smiling, and wearing cornrows in her hair. She also talked like she was a slave in Gone With The Wind.
"Why do you always mention if someone is black or Hispanic?" I've been asked on more than one occasion by editors and copyeditors.
My answer. "Because a lot of times readers assume everyone is white."
I live in a world with people of many different cultures, religions, races and ethnicity and it is only natural that the worlds I write about be just as diverse.
In the light of the Rue controversy, I feel strongly that I have been doing the right thing by stating specifically the race and ethnicity of my various characters.
The only character in my books that is continuously "white-washed" is Jenni Blakely from AS THE WORLD DIES. She is half Mexican, half Irish. She speaks fluent Spanish and never "hides" her background. Jenni looks a lot like many of the Mexi-Irish people I have known in my life. Pale skin, dark eyes, dark hair. Jenni is a complicated character, but the one spot in her life where she has no conflicts is her heritage.
Yet, dream-casting for Jenni consistently has people choosing actresses that aren't half Latina like Jenni. They concentrate on the Irish part of her heritage and suggest people like Summer Glau. As I have stated before, I am certain that there is a part Latina actress in Hollywood that would play Jenni to perfection. The producer of the potential TV show and I are agreed on this. Jenni will not be whitewashed.
But this makes me wonder...
Will someone go on Twitter and wonder why their beloved Jenni is suddenly speaking Spanish?
(Note: I will follow up this post with another about Characters vrs Stereotypes this week)