Visualizing Minority Representation
September 24, 2013 8:48 AM   Subscribe

 
I wish they had some examples of characters who have been white washed.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:03 AM on September 24, 2013


Jesus, for starters.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:06 AM on September 24, 2013 [34 favorites]


Pick a non-white character in any form of media and you'll most likely find an example, 317.
posted by flatluigi at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought, "I can give an example," and went looking for a cover of Octavia Butler's book Dawn and in doing that found this blog post about other whitewashed book covers.
posted by PussKillian at 9:11 AM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is clever enough to illustrate a point, but, yeah, what roomthreeseventeen said.
posted by grubi at 9:12 AM on September 24, 2013


Off the top of my head, the cast of the movie The Last Airbender (except for the bad guy) was whitewashed.

Oh and Khan in the Star Trek reboot.

Oh, and Tonto in the Lone Ranger reboot, in that he was played by a white dude instead of casting a Native American, making it an astonishingly more racist role than when Jay Silverheels played Tonto in the 50s. Bad move, Depp.
posted by emjaybee at 9:17 AM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


There was a thread (which of course I can't find) about racebending in The Last Airbender.
posted by rtha at 9:17 AM on September 24, 2013


I guess my point was that the trend now seems to be colorblind casting with people of color replacing white actors in character parts. Audra McDonald is about to play the part of Mother Abbess in the (IMHO, godforsaken for other reasons) TV version of The Sound of Music.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:18 AM on September 24, 2013


I think it's better without examples, because then people end up being all "well that example doesn't matter because x" and "look at all these (usually a tiny amount) of nonwhite people who WERE in this film so whatever it doesn't matter."
posted by sweetkid at 9:19 AM on September 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


By omitting examples, they deny the chance to argue pointlessly about whether or not the examples chosen are in fact valid examples and/or whether those particular instances of whitewashing did any real harm. It did. A good move. However examples are easy to come by: Khan in the recent Star Trek movie. Katniss in The Hunger Games. Fucking near everyone in the ATLA movie.

An unfunny but illustrative story related to racebending: when the Alex Cross movie came out, my aunt was excited as hell to see it. Big fan of the author, et cetera. After she saw it she posted on Facebook about how terrible it was and I assumed it was because, well, it was a terrible movie. No, it turns out the reason she hated it was because "They made Alex Cross a black man." She claims to have read every Alex Cross book and apparently had no idea that the character, as written, was black. How the fuck you do that, I have no idea. So apparently people gonna whine about "reverse whitewashing" even when it doesn't actually happen.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:25 AM on September 24, 2013


That's great. I just had a pathetic argument with some guys where I complained about a post on "how to teach you girlfriend to program" as not being representative/gender neutral, and some of them responded that they have totally read material that used "she" as the generic pronoun and didn't feel excluded or ignored at all, so wtf was my problem with being unable to read material that wasn't directly about me?
posted by jacalata at 9:25 AM on September 24, 2013


For those who saw SyFy's Legends of Earthsea, it's a big example of this. Ursula LeGuin wrote A Whitewashed Earthsea for Slate about her experience with both the mini-series and her book covers.
posted by Mad_Carew at 9:26 AM on September 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


I know this should make me equally angry all around, but something about seeing an Octavia Butler book with a whitewashed character on the cover is triggering a special kind of rage. Yes, it was 26 years ago, but it still doesn't make me less.... argh I'm going on a walk.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:27 AM on September 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


All I know is... as a white person, I want to go to her parties. I'm willing to content myself with merely damn near all of those tasty chocolate-covered metaphors!
posted by markkraft at 9:27 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


oh my. i cannot believe they actually put white women on the cover of Dawn.

seriously?

that's needs a more harsh term than white-washing. that's just flat out ignoring the details of the book. like, ignoring the main character. i still can't believe i just saw that.

man it was hard to not swear while writing that.
posted by sio42 at 9:28 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fucking near everyone in the ATLA movie.

Not everyone. They made the bad guys dark-skinned.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:34 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me, The Last Airbender is an extra special example, in that the only reason Shyamalan even knew what A:tLA was was because his daughter wanted to be Katara for Halloween one year, because she finally had a hero who looked like her.
posted by jinjo at 9:35 AM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


the Avatar thread
posted by likeatoaster at 9:50 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess my point was that the trend now seems to be colorblind casting with people of color replacing white actors in character parts. Audra McDonald is about to play the part of Mother Abbess in the (IMHO, godforsaken for other reasons) TV version of The Sound of Music.

Well, for one, the original article explains why white actors replacing characters that are PoC is much more harmful than the reverse, so you can't really imply that the two situations equivalent; but also, the phenomena of whitewashing happens to characters that are explicitly referenced as being a person of color. The reverse, in many circumstances, isn't true - typically the only reason why a character is assumed to be white is only because racial characteristics aren't explicitly mentioned (or completely missed by the reader as Sternmeyer mentions in their anecdote) and thus they default to white because white is the default.

But looking at the bigger picture, here's what I want: I want to live in a culture where diversity is valued, and all races have representation. I want the new generation of children to grow up having exposure to people of all backgrounds. And when I say representation and exposure, I mean not just with people of color in exoticized, fetishized roles, but as the equal members of mainstream society as they are. So okay, even if casting McDonald as the Mother Abbess isn't technically factually correct by 1956 standards, ultimately, it does more good than harm on a cultural level. Whereas the reverse of whitewashing isn't exactly true because the literal default is already having almost every character (except maybe one token minority) in every production and show be white.
posted by Conspire at 9:57 AM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh and Khan in the Star Trek reboot.

Um, nope: Ricardo Montalban was the son of two white Spaniards. He was white. The way it should be put is:
Oh and Khan in the Star Trek reboot.
Getting a person of European descent to play a character who is meant to be Southern Asian... that's a whitewashing.
posted by grubi at 10:02 AM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just realized this is likely to set off a whole side discussion. NOT MY INTENT.
posted by grubi at 10:04 AM on September 24, 2013


A Dream Deferred
by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

posted by chavenet at 10:05 AM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was going to make a Raisinette in the sun joke in the post title but I thought it would be in poor taste.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:08 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking of KKKKHHAAAAAAAAANNNNNNN and whitewashing, let us not forget a certain infamous example.
posted by Panjandrum at 10:10 AM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whitewashing is so ridiculously common that anyone who walks into a discussion and says "I wish they had some examples of characters who have been whitewashed" needs to walk right back out and recommit to approaching discussions with integrity and intelligence before they come back in.
posted by teh_boy at 10:26 AM on September 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


Whitewashing is so ridiculously common that anyone who walks into a discussion and says "I wish they had some examples of characters who have been whitewashed" needs to walk right back out and recommit to approaching discussions with integrity and intelligence before they come back in.

Thank goodness you're here to steer us all in the right direction.
posted by grubi at 10:28 AM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


It maybe wasn't the kindest way of saying it, but teh_boy has a point. Whitewashing isn't exactly so rare that it makes sense to start the conversation acting confused that such a thing could happen. Also, with the ordering of the posts, it kind of came off as challenging the premise, kind of like throwing in a "[citation needed]".
posted by Karmakaze at 10:33 AM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like it the most when historical figures are whitewashed. Like Alexandre Dumas. Now you're not just shitting on people of color in general! You're also shitting on a specific person of color! Extra credit.
posted by prefpara at 10:36 AM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Whitewashing isn't exactly so rare that it makes sense to start the conversation acting confused that such a thing could happen.

That certainly wasn't so in my case. I wasn't doubting it or being obtuse; my point is that the article should have included those examples in addition.

Being nasty, rude, or dismissive towards someone who is saying "Good job, add some examples" is not helpful.
posted by grubi at 10:39 AM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think there's a distinction to be made between whitewashing and insensitive casting choices. Whitewashing seems to me to be like the book covers: you have actually changed the apparent race of the character. Casting choices which acknowledge the race of the character but use a person not of that race to play them -- with some makeup assist -- may be a dick move in its own right (and if you think it's not, think Charlie Chan) but it's a different thing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:39 AM on September 24, 2013


Ursula LeGuin's "Whitewashed Earthsea" article that Mad Carew linked to was interesting. I read the Earthsea trilogy as a teen (living in an overwhelmingly white neighbourhood and school) and can clearly remember being surprised whenever Sparrowhawk's skin colour was mentioned in the books. As LeGuin writes, I had the luxury of being "race-blind" when reading: it didn't matter that I have a poor memory for character descriptions, I could just assume that they look basically like me and virtually always be right. But it certainly wasn't helped by my copy having this cover, in which Sparrowhawk has fair hair, blue eyes, and pale(ish) skin.

the_boy and Karmakaze: If in doubt, assume good faith. The linked article reads to me like an explanation of whitewashing to people who've never encountered the idea before. With that audience in mind, listing some prominent examples of whitewashing might help them get to the "Oh, it is a real thing!" point more easily.
posted by metaBugs at 10:42 AM on September 24, 2013


On the one hand, I guess the OP could've spent a couple minutes googling up links to examples of whitewashing and racebending. On the other, so could people who had never before encountered the term or concept before clicking through to the post.
posted by rtha at 11:12 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me, The Last Airbender is an extra special example, in that the only reason Shyamalan even knew what A:tLA was was because his daughter wanted to be Katara for Halloween one year, because she finally had a hero who looked like her.

Also an extra special example for showing that it's not just white people who whitewash, that it takes more to change the system than just having a couple of more people of colour in front and behind the cameras (though that would help a lot).
posted by MartinWisse at 11:24 AM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's a list of 25 whitewashed character. Warning: the site's format is annoying.

I had the same question as the first commenter. Maybe I'm ignorant about movies and whatnot but I don't think it means that I'm approaching the conversation without integrity. Not sure about intelligence though.
posted by beau jackson at 11:27 AM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think I didn't catch on to the race issue when I read Earthsea in elementary school, but I picked up on it when I read Tombs. The covers I had were the Bantam covers, so yeah, at the time whitewashed.

We'd read Lawrence Yep's Dragonwings earlier that year, so I don't know if the teacher also missed the race references or just didn't mention them (or if I wasn't paying attention).
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:30 AM on September 24, 2013


I guess my point was that the trend now seems to be colourblind casting with people of colour replacing white actors in character parts. Audra McDonald is about to play the part of Mother Abbess in the (IMHO, godforsaken for other reasons) TV version of The Sound of Music.

Well, that's because the vast majority of character parts used to go to white actors. So now for character parts, sometimes they do raceblind casting, and some of those now go to non-white actors.
posted by jeather at 11:34 AM on September 24, 2013


I wish they had some examples of characters who have been white washed.

Ok, so I was going to say that the fourth or so image in tfa actually includes a bunch of examples. But I see on closer inspection the the characters in the "white" bowl are merely default, "non-racial" characters, so this image is illustrating the problem of white being the default race and all other colors being racialized, not the problem of whitewashing already pre-racialized characters.

... which is kind of exactly the same problem as whitewashing...

but I can see where it doesn't technically answer your exact, precise concern; and tfa was talking specifically about the specific sub-problem of whitewashing already racialized characters who had been played by non-white actors in the past, so carry on.
posted by eviemath at 11:36 AM on September 24, 2013


My very diverse college recently ran a production of "The Cripple of Inishmaan," a dark Irish play, that was cast color, age and even gender blind.

It was wonderful. I was a member of the audience (and not involved in theater or acting.) I was amazed afterward that it just didn't matter to the story. The actors played their parts well and the audience went along. I wasn't even thrown by the woman playing an old man.

It may be different because this is a play and not a movie or book cover.

This is all my long winded way of getting to my point. Including people who are traditionally left out of productions, even in parts they don't "match" is not an artistic problem. It's a social problem that I hope to see disappear some day.
posted by cccorlew at 11:37 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Katniss in The Hunger Games.

Wait, do people think she was whitewashed because the book says she has "olive skin"? As a white person whose skin is positively khaki if I get tan, I don't think this is enough to make a case. Especially since her mom and sis are both blonde.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:39 AM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


A couple of novels that I like which decouple skin color from race are Greg Egan's Quarantine, in which pretty much every naturally-pale person who's not a racist imbecile has had melanin-boosting treatments because skin cancer is bad, and Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep in which humans are tiny minority in galactic civilization and so thoroughly postracial that there doesn't seem to be any relationship between skin hue and any other feature.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:43 AM on September 24, 2013


roomthreeseventeen: "I guess my point was that the trend now seems to be colorblind casting with people of color replacing white actors in character parts. "

Open Casting Does Not Exist

The "whitewashing" tag on Racebending

"They already cast a black guy so they can't cast a black girl too"
posted by Be cool, sodapop at 11:44 AM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I saw the trailer for the new 47 Ronin the other day (in front of Riddick, which has its own share of problems, but that's for another day) and even though I'd already heard about the stupid whitewashing, I couldn't believe just how godawful it looked even beyond that. (Bonus Mighty Whitey to go along with the whitewashing, hooray!)
posted by kmz at 11:45 AM on September 24, 2013


Need examples?
The 24th annual Latino Image Awards by Culture Clash (openng sketch from their best of tape, entire tape included)
posted by yeolcoatl at 11:46 AM on September 24, 2013


In Portland, we recently had a theater production of The Left Hand of Darkness which cast a black man as Genly, the envoy from Earth, but cast all the people from the planet Gethen with actors who appeared white. Genly's casting is true to the novel, but the Gethenians' is not: canonically, they have dark ruddy skin, and although Genly is darker than most of them, he can pass for a native if he wants.

I thought it was a very strange decision to make the Gethenians white, particularly since the adaptation kept a couple of lines where they tactlessly ask if everyone on Earth is as dark as Genly (which in the book signals that they have no tradition of racial difference, but in the play invited the audience to laugh at their expense -- or, at least, that's what the audience did). I felt like introducing this very stark visual difference made the story "about" race in a way that it shouldn't have been. It was originally a story which contained no white people at all. Genly's race influenced some aspects of the response to him, but it wasn't at the center of his character. In the play, the contrast between Genly and the Gethenians was always present. This was especially striking in his scenes with the prime minister Estraven, who was played by a tall, blonde, conventionally beautiful actress in a casting which couldn't have been less like the character as described in the novel. (This is no knock on her performance, which was magnetic.)

I'm sure there were reasons for this, one of which is that it's probably hard to find actors in Portland who look like Gethenians (though, seriously, is it impossible even to approximate?), and another of which is that Genly being racially different is a visual metaphor for his being sexually different, which is the real gulf of understanding in the novel. It seems like subtextually treacherous ground to use one type of difference as a metaphor for another, though, and it lessened the joy of what was otherwise a beautiful adaptation.
posted by thesmallmachine at 12:26 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's great. I just had a pathetic argument with some guys where I complained about a post on "how to teach you girlfriend to program" as not being representative/gender neutral, and some of them responded that they have totally read material that used "she" as the generic pronoun and didn't feel excluded or ignored at all, so wtf was my problem with being unable to read material that wasn't directly about me?

It's seriously rarer than it should be. I've noticed gaming publications being (perhaps surprisingly?) the only place where I see this practice with any true regularity. Both Wizards of the Coast and White wolf use "he" and "she" pretty interchangeably for gender-neutral purposes. And SMBC has made a point in recent years (without making too much of a point about it, nicely) of basically randomizing race/gender/orientation/etc. with any characters where the joke doesn't require them to be one thing or another, which is the grand majority of them. It's a welcome sight to see.

But those are the only examples I can think of that have made this the norm, sadly.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:37 PM on September 24, 2013


Wow that Avatar whitewashing thread is fascinating. It was Christmas Eve 2008 which is probably how I missed it. But I'm favoriting all this stuff from like years ago. And um, anti-favoriting a ton of stuff. In my mind.
posted by sweetkid at 12:52 PM on September 24, 2013


> Wait, do people think she was whitewashed because the book says she has "olive skin"? As a white person whose skin is positively khaki if I get tan, I don't think this is enough to make a case. Especially since her mom and sis are both blonde.

posted by oneirodynia at 2:39 PM on September 24



The books make it very clear that District 12 is set in Appalachia. The coal mining region of Appalachia has historically been, and continues to be, racially diverse--generations of African-Americans, Native Americans, and Melungeons have dug coal right next to whites.


The Seam, where Katniss is from, is the poorest area of District 12, and it's populated by coal-miners like her deceased dad. Katniss' looks in the books are typical of folk from the Seam. Members of the wealthier merchant class, which used to include Katniss's mom until she married Katniss's dad, are generally described as having fair hair and skin. That's why Katniss' mom and Prim always looked out of place in the Seam.


I mean, Collins' allusions to race aren't exactly subtle, here. The Capitol relies on exploited Districts. That's a clear metaphor for many real-world global-economy splits, and in Katniss’s world, these splits fall along racial lines--just like they frequently do in our own world. District 12 is very clearly divided by race, with the merchant class having "light hair and blue eyes" and the working class having "olive skin." To be blunt, Katniss wouldn't pass The Hunger Games' version of the bag test--she looks like a poor girl from the Seam, just like a poor woman with black hair, grey eyes, and olive skin in our world would probably be assumed to be from some poor ethnic community.


That's why it hurt to see the role go to Jennifer Lawrence. Don't get me wrong--Jenn's my homegirl. And I love the fact that two actors from an Appalachian state (Lawrence is from Louisville, Hutcherson is from Union, KY) get to represent pseudo-Appalachian characters. It's great to see Appalachia represented in ways other than look-at-the-ignorant-rednecks.


But setting all that aside? There's a good story about white privilege, and the intersection of race and poverty, in The Hunger Games that got watered down because the producers explicitly called for white actors to play characters that weren't white in the books. I wish we'd all had the chance to see that film.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:03 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Um, nope: Ricardo Montalban was the son of two white Spaniards. He was white....Getting a person of European descent to play a character who is meant to be Southern Asian... that's a whitewashing.

posted by grubi at 1:02 PM on September 24


It's easy to find interviews where Montalban talks about being a "minority" actor and facing discrimination, including one where he says "Hollywood destroyed my dreams long ago."


Plus, he founded the Nosotros Foundation (to advocate for Latinos in Hollywood), and co-founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee. It's pretty clear that Montalban himself identified as an ethnic minority.


As for Montalban playing Khan, someone wrote an online essay that made the great point that having a Latino actor playing a vaguely Asian character was actually a stroke of genius. The character of Khan was all about eugenics. He was a product of eugenics. He believed very much in eugenics, just like your garden-variety white supremicist does. Had Khan been played by a white guy, then that's all it would have been--garden-variety white supremecy.


But with Montalban's casting, suddenly you had a white supremicist that wasn't white. Khan presented a vision of eugenics that wasn't tied to race, something most viewers watching Star Trek hadn't thought about. It made folks go, "You know, even without the whole Aryan-race bit...eugenics is still some disturbing shit." That may not have been the message the writers of that episode intended to deliver, but deliver it they did, and we lost any hope of returning to that message once...

SPOILER ALERTS PAST THIS POINT! DO NOT READ IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED! SKIP ON PAST THE REST OF MY COMMENT!

...once Cumberbatch was cast in the part. Cumberbatch was great in the role. But his Khan was a garden-variety white supremicist.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:39 PM on September 24, 2013


I forgot to explain what a bag test is. Here's a link.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:43 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The books make it very clear that District 12 is set in Appalachia. The coal mining region of Appalachia has historically been, and continues to be, racially diverse--generations of African-Americans, Native Americans, and Melungeons have dug coal right next to whites.


Maybe we lived in different coal mining areas of WV/western MD, but I would have had to travel at least 45 miles to SEE a non-caucasian person while growing up in a coal mining town.

Maybe I'm a inadvertent racist, but I pictured all of the main characters as just dirt-poor white people of the like that I grew up with. "Racially Diverse" is not the first thing that comes to mind when I (and I'd guess most people) think of when you say "coal miner". Add to that the blond hair and such. Just doing a quick google image search for "coal miner", you have to scroll pretty deep to get to any non-whites (and that guy looks hispanic).

Hell, the thing that bugged me most about thier appearance was how CLEAN everybody was in that supposedly filthy slum of a district. (sorry, derail)

Also - books like Mockingjay are just teen-girl wish fulfillment. Taking a cynical view, who is the target audience (for the movie) and who's going to buy the most tickets to watch their own 'peer' be the hero?
posted by Mr. Big Business at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2013


It's pretty clear that Montalban himself identified as an ethnic minority.

Oh I don't doubt that. I was just pointing out something that goes beyond that. He was of Hispanic descent, which made him a minority, but he was white. And anyone who doesn't know about White Hispanic as a designation hasn't paid any attention to demographic studies, nor met my wife's Cuban grandmother.

To sum up:

- Montalban was white, but Hispanic, and therefore a minority (and identified himself as such).
- The character was a Sikh from India.
- In no case has the character been portrayed by anyone of Southern Asian heritage.
- Montalban was awesome as the character, either way.
- Cumberbatch is appropriately Cumberbatchy.
posted by grubi at 2:01 PM on September 24, 2013




How about Lavender Brown from Harry Potter? Appears throughout the book series with no mention of race/ethnicity to my recollection. Appears in the first few movies as more or less an extra - played by black actresses. Becomes another character's love interest and suddenly has dialogue and scenes of consequence - recast with a white actress.
posted by Flannery Culp at 2:53 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The real travesty of the Hunger Games was the incredibly fucking disgusting racist backlash when people realized that not only was Rue cast as an actual black person, but she was also specifically written as one. People came RIGHT OUT AND OPENLY SAID that her death meant nothing to them anymore once they found out she was not white.
posted by elizardbits at 3:08 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe we lived in different coal mining areas of WV/western MD, but I would have had to travel at least 45 miles to SEE a non-caucasian person while growing up in a coal mining town.

Okay, I'm just gonna say this. I'm not saying its true about you specifically, but it's usually been true in my admittedly-limited experience:

Whenever I hear a white person say, "Oh, the nearest black person is so-and-so miles away", it invariably turns out that we're just on the other side of town, or another close area. I have found that if a white person has no compelling reason to interact with black people, he or she will start to assume that we're off somewhere, in the distance, beyond the horizon. The effects of segregation were real and long-lasting, and even now it contributes to the illusion of distance where there really is none.

For this reason, I take your statement with a grain of salt. Blacks were a major part of WV's coal industry from the beginning, because they came into your neck of the woods in the late 1880s and laid the rails for the Norfolk & Western and Chesapeake & Ohio railroads. They worked on the Big Bend Tunnel. For the Lord's sake, it was his work on Big Bend that gave America the legend of John Henry! More recently, black coal miner William Roosevelt Lynch of Oak Hill, WV, died in the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine Disaster.

So, yeah. We've been there in West Virginia's coal mining industry since the early days. I don't know why you specifically never saw any black people in your section of WV, but that doesn't mean we weren't there. And that certainly doesn't mean we're not part of the history of coal mining in Appalachia, and that we're not reflected in The Hunger Games' mythology.

> Maybe I'm a inadvertent racist, but I pictured all of the main characters as just dirt-poor white people of the like that I grew up with. "Racially Diverse" is not the first thing that comes to mind when I (and I'd guess most people) think of when you say "coal miner".

You're no racist.

But you're like any white person in America--you're not immune to racist thinking.

The fact that you and other fans pictured all of the main characters as white people, and that you (and, I wouldn't be surprised to find, other white people) assume that "most people" would see them the same way, shows just how a certain type of white privilege is deeply ingrained into your thinking. It's the thinking that says, "Unless I'm specifically told otherwise, I'm going to assume the default setting for 'human' is 'white person'; and even if I am told otherwise, I'm going to ignore the text and assume it anyway."

> Add to that the blond hair and such. Just doing a quick google image search for "coal miner", you have to scroll pretty deep to get to any non-whites (and that guy looks hispanic).

When I put the words "coal miner" into Google Images, this came up on the first page, in the 3rd row of pictures.

> Also - books like Mockingjay are just teen-girl wish fulfillment. Taking a cynical view, who is the target audience (for the movie) and who's going to buy the most tickets to watch their own 'peer' be the hero?

The same white teen-girls who buy records by Beyonce' and Rhianna, and go see movies with Zoe Saldana, and watch Scandal with Kerry Washington and Sleepy Hollow with Nichole Beharie, of course. Those girls are perfectly capable of seeing themselves reflected in those artists and the stories they tell. They could have done the same thing with The Hunger Games films.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:41 PM on September 24, 2013 [17 favorites]


You're no racist.

But you're like any white person in America--you're not immune to racist thinking.

The fact that you and other fans pictured all of the main characters as white people, and that you (and, I wouldn't be surprised to find, other white people) assume that "most people" would see them the same way, shows just how a certain type of white privilege is deeply ingrained into your thinking. It's the thinking that says, "Unless I'm specifically told otherwise, I'm going to assume the default setting for 'human' is 'white person'; and even if I am told otherwise, I'm going to ignore the text and assume it anyway."


Thanks. I hate being tagged as a racist just for stating how I see things, or being told I should have white guilt for some imagined transgression.

Seriously, there were zero non-whites in my high school, and I honestly can't remember any african-americans living in our town growing up. It was a very small (2000-ish people) town, one of those ones where everybody knows everybody else.

You're right about the assumption that characters in books default to white for me. I have caught myself in a weird "Oh, now I have to redo my image of this guy" mental position when it's explicitly stated that the character is black halfway through a book, though. It doesn't bother me, as in most stuff I read it really doens't play into the story. I suppose it's just because - well, that's who I have the most experience with.

Fair point about Beyonce and Rhianna and the others. I was just making a weak argument about the cynicism in hollywood, and that it's all about ticket sales. (and marketing tie-ins, and the action figure, etc.)

Jeez, I can't believe it seems I give this much of a shit about The Hunger Games. What a dumb example to argue about. :)
posted by Mr. Big Business at 7:48 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


But setting all that aside? There's a good story about white privilege, and the intersection of race and poverty, in The Hunger Games that got watered down because the producers explicitly called for white actors to play characters that weren't white in the books.

There's absolutely no proof, only speculation that Katniss was meant to be non-white. All we know is that she has straight black hair, olive skin, and grey eyes. That's it. What she is can only be guessed at, not stated unequivocally. She could be (half) Melungeon, she could be black Irish, she could be Italian, she could be Cherokee. Suzanne Collins has said "In her remarkable audition piece, I watched Jennifer embody every essential quality necessary to play Katniss." It seems to me that if race was important to the author, she wouldn't have made this statement.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:36 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I should be clear that my argument is a very narrow one, consisting of we don't know what race Katniss is from her physical description. So I'm not saying that the casting was not an example of white washing. I do, however, think it is extremely discriminatory to have a casting call specifying Caucasian actresses when any actress that could perceived to be olive skinned, black haired, &c. should be eligible. Whether that was a concerted effort to whitewash a character perceived as non-white by the people making the film, or it was another sordid example of movie industry prejudice (no one will see this movie if the lead actress is Not White), , I can't say. Both situations are ugly and depressing.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:38 PM on September 25, 2013


> There's absolutely no proof, only speculation that Katniss was meant to be non-white. All we know is that she has straight black hair, olive skin, and grey eyes. That's it. What she is can only be guessed at, not stated unequivocally. She could be (half) Melungeon, she could be black Irish, she could be Italian, she could be Cherokee

There's not really such a thing as "black Irish". Or rather, here in Appalachia and points south, "black Irish" is a euphemism for "one of my ancestors was black or native American, but the resulting children were light-skinned enough that they could pass as white, so the family just pretended nothing happened." I subscribe to the theory that this is the origin of Melungeon as well; I'm not convinced that they're truly a separate ethnic group.

As for Italians in Appalachia...well, it's wouldn't be impossible, just like I'm sure it wouldn't be impossible to find people of Slovak, Vietnamese, or Outer Mongolian descent here. It would just be highly unlikely, and you'd be looked at funny for even suggesting it. Also, you would once again have a "black Irish" situation in play. It was not unheard of for people of African descent who were light-skinned enough to pass for white to claim Portugese or Italian descent in order to avoid discrimination (the Mozingo family is one well-known example)

On the other hand, the area is CRAWLING with people of African descent that perfectly match that description of Katniss. Hell, I match it except for my eyes. A couple of my younger cousins could be dead ringers for Katniss.


> Suzanne Collins has said "In her remarkable audition piece, I watched Jennifer embody every essential quality necessary to play Katniss." It seems to me that if race was important to the author, she wouldn't have made this statement.

Director Gary Ross had this to say when asked point-blank about race in the movie:

EW: In the books, Katniss is described as being olive-skinned, dark-haired, possibly biracial. Did you discuss with Suzanne the implications of casting a blond, caucasian girl?

Ross: Suzanne and I talked about that as well. There are certain things that are very clear in the book. Rue is African-American. Thresh is African-American. Suzanne had no issues with Jen playing the role. And she thought there was a tremendous amount of flexibility. It wasn’t doctrine to her. Jen will have dark hair in the role, but that’s something movies can easily achieve. [Laughs] I promise all the avid fans of The Hunger Games that we can easily deal with Jennifer’s hair color


Ah, yes. Hair dye. Isn't it handy how a white person can become another race just by dying one's hair? In all seriousness, that's actually a standard Hollywood argument for not casting a non-white person--we can just change their hair and use cosmetics!

Given Ross's response to EW, I'm confident Collins heard that same argument and more from the producers: In addition to being a fantastic actress, Jennifer Lawrence is really hot right now with a big fan base which guarantees a huge opening weekend! She's probably going to take home an Oscar soon, too. Look, it's trivial to get the appearance right--we'll just color her hair and the make-up people will take care of the rest....

I'm not letting Collins off the hook, though. Authors may not have a lot of power in Hollywood but they do have some, and Collins apparently didn't care about race to push for more representative casting in the main role. Compare that to Neil Gaiman, who reportedly turned down a movie offer for American Gods because the producers wanted to cast white actors for the black characters. Or Ursula Le Guin's outrage when the SyFy channel whitewashed Wizard of Earthsea.

You say there's no proof. There's no proof in the text, I will absolutely agree with you on that. But there is proof, in the form of the population of Appalachia, the basis for the population of the Seam. You cannot swing a dead cat by the tail in this region, this town, hell, in my office building where I'm typing this right now, and not hit a black person that fits this physical description. It only makes sense to assume that Katniss is a light-skinned black person or a native American. If Collins came down here for a day and asked every young woman she found who fit Katniss' description about her ancestry, she'd go back home and do a little re-writing to make it more obvious.


> I should be clear that my argument is a very narrow one, consisting of we don't know what race Katniss is from her physical description

That's what makes discussions like this so frustrating, because we do know. A bunch of us fans grew up in Appalachia, and we know what we look like, and what other people here look like. The odds, the numbers, are clearly and obviously on the side of me and fans who support a non-white interpretation of the character. When other fans come back with "But...but...but... ", they are blatantly ignoring facts about the population here. There's an almost sticking-your-fingers-in-your-ears-closing-your-eyes-and-shouting-LA-LA-LA-I-CAN-T-HEAR-YOU aspect to it.
posted by magstheaxe at 11:18 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


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