Rue is not enough: Why we need more diverse casting in film

I have to make a confession to make. I read The Hunger Games and didn’t realise Rue was black.

I mean, there was a description in the book and everything. We get told she has dark skin. But somehow my mind glossed over this and so when I finally got around to seeing the movie, I was a bit surprised. Whoops.

This only goes to show one of the prime differences between movies and books. In books, authors can just not describe the person’s skin colour and leave readers to fill in that detail. In movies, you don’t get that liberty. Film is visual. It forces us to see things like race, and to connect the characters to their race.

This should be a good thing. All fiction, books and movies included, is about putting yourself into someone else’s shoes. It’s all about looking at someone else and rooting for them. If that person is not like us, then all the better. All the easier for us to meet someone in real life who is not like us and think, “Oh, they’re a person, just like me,” rather than, “Oh, they’re one of those, I wouldn’t trust them.” That’s why it’s important to cast a diverse array of actors in non-stereotypical roles.

And The Hunger Games did a pretty good job at this. Rue was cast well, so was Thresh (another character where I failed at reading comprehension). Furthermore, there’s Cinna, the enigmatic stylist who is Katniss’s closest ally in the preparation for the Games. In the books, Suzanne Collins doesn’t really describe his skin colour. They had a choice there, and they chose Lenny Kravitz. Not a bad call.

cinna

But was it enough?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who misread The Hunger Games. According to some tweets collected by the creator of the site Hunger Games Tweets, others were not only surprised, but disappointed and angry. One tweeter even said ‘her death wasn’t as sad’ on learning Rue’s race. Turns out there are still people who can’t feel empathy for someone who isn’t like them, even a fictional character.

This is because we are fighting against the stories that have already been told, over and over. The stories about black people not being people you should feel empathy for. The stories that tell us ‘some black girl’ is not the same as a ‘little blonde innocent girl.’

We need to fight this, and Rue is not enough. Thresh is not enough. Cinna, wonderful though he is, is not enough. And we’re not even moving forwards.

This film came out in 2012. Four years later, the people on the movie screens are still predominantly white. Hollywood has gone so far as to make adaptations of stories based on non-Western, non-white cultures, and cast white actors in these non-white roles.

We need to see more people who are not white in movies. We need to see Asians, black people, brown people, people of all shapes and sizes. We need to learn how to empathise with them, to see that they are more than what they look like, that they are people just like us. Otherwise, the stories that tell us that they are not us, they are not innocent, their deaths aren’t as sad – those stories will win.

And that won’t improve my reading skills at all.

13 thoughts on “Rue is not enough: Why we need more diverse casting in film

  1. I particularly noticed this when William Hung and Psy came out on the music scene. It’s like if you’re a talented male Asian singer, it’s very hard to be able to get a career unless you’re sorta poking fun at yourself 🙁 And Hollywood seems to still be very uncomfortable with anyone in the “leading man” or “romantic (male) interest” role unless it’s a white European male.

    Another thing that’s noteworthy is how comparatively few women there still are in Hollywood, and how stereotyped their roles are! According to the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media, there’s a real shortage of women narrators, women in stereotypically “male” jobs, etc. The reason Geena started the Institute was watching children’s TV with her kids and seeing really stereotyped gender roles there; I notice the same when I watch children’s TV with my daughter, almost always when there’s a doctor shown in a video of a nursery rhyme, the doctor is going to be male. Not the best lessons to teach our kids!

    I like Rebecca’s point about white children, too; when reading pregnancy magazines in Australia I noticed that virtually all models (mothers, fathers and babies) were Caucasian. This doesn’t represent Australia’s real demographics and was quite disappointing!

  2. Hey Sharon,

    Great article! I really enjoyed reading it, and it definitely made me thinks about how I’ve pictured characters in books that I’ve read. I also have the bad habit of skim reading and seem to miss key descriptive points, so I probably would have pictured Rue being fair skinned too. Let’s just blame this on the whitewashing of western media, instead of our reading abilities though!

    One other example that came to mind was that of Hermione in the Harry Potter books. Upon the casting of a dark skinned Hermione for the upcoming play, some fans were up in arms, saying that this went against the books, probably as the Hermione that they imagine looks very much like Emma Watson. J.K Rowling was quick to support this casting decision however, reminding fans that she never described Hermione as fair skinned, the only description readers get of Hermione is that she has brown eyes, frizzy hair and is very clever. So it is more than fair to cast her as an actress of any race, as her skin colour is never mentioned, and shouldn’t be an issue. (See link below for the full article)

    I completely agree that we need to see more diversity, it’s not fair that white children are the only one’s that get to see themselves represented as the heroes and protagonists. Things are getting better, as we can see through the casting of a dark skinned Hermione, and through Nigerian born John Boyega being cast as one of the lead roles in the latest Star Wars. The problem is however, whilst things may be getting better, they are not getting better fast enough.

    http://time.com/4156751/jk-rowling-black-hermione-granger/

  3. That’s a great post Sharon and engaging conversation Lara and Rebecca. I wish I could say it is not true but unfortunately Western media are predominantly whitewashed. And if there was a quick way to change this, it would be through the many independent small media creators who keep reminding us the real image of our societies. Each of us can do it and we don’t need much to change the world.
    At the same time we cannot overlook some signs of changes happening already and Australia, in comparison to other Western countries is not that bad here. Think Dami Im in the last Eurovision.

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