Rue is Black!

Rue is Black!!

This was the email I got from the baby’s godmother. If you don’t have a teen in your life you may not know about  Rue and the Hunger Games, but trust, they’re big.

Hunger games is a young adult dystopian novel that’s like a fight to the death reality show with children. Rue is a pivotal character both in terms of the survival of Katniss, the main character, and the shaping of the revolution. She is described in the book as being brown. Of course, the descriptions of characters in the book did not stop casting directors from bringing in their own biases.

Suzanne Collins, the book’s author, wasn’t very specific about Katniss’ ethnicity. She has dark hair, gray eyes and olive skin. I read her as being kind of multi-racial, a little Asian and white and Black maybe?  Collins has said race wasn’t a sticking point for her, but the casting call was for white women. Really? Really, casting people? That said, I was nervous about Rue. I did not want them to cast a cute little white girl.

Don’t get me wrong, little white girls are fine, but little black girls are also cute and they also like acting jobs. There are not enough representations of African-Americans on-screen period, let alone of children. It’s important for all children, but especially those who do not often see faces that look like theirs on the big screen. How long did it take Disney to create a Black princess? I’m tired of  the images that too often dominate the media and reflect the white is good/Black is bad dichotomy.

So this is terrific news. Rue would be a great character for any young person to play. Rue saves Katniss and is a catalyst for the overall revolution for the story.

Seeing positive representations on-screen in more important now for kids and teens than ever. With Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa’s piece: “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”  it’s as though it’s okay to make racism scientific. “I’m not racist, it’s just science that I don’t date Black women.” There are so many ways in which Black children, especially Black girls are told that they aren’t as good as or as pretty as other children. Why else would we feel the need to perm a seven year old’s hair? Or add extensions to a one year old? When I was little, I wanted long, flowing down my back hair like barbie. (Even the Black barbie has long, flowing down her back hair!) This little girl has braids! Maybe this will go a little further is helping everyone, including little Black girls, see that brown chicks have it going on.

Rue is a smart, capable, determined little hero. This is someone kids could emulate. Given that the book and movie are for teens, I am even more excited that Rue is played by a Black actress. Not for nothing, but adults are pretty set in their ways. Teens, while not post-racial, (I love the term post-racial. It’s like hope and naïveté all in one) are more open and malleable. It’s when movies are cast with people of color that those who feel that white is just “normal” and the default have their views challenged.

While I do not think seeing one movie with one Black character will bring us all together in a kum-bah-yah moment, I do think people in general need to see a variety of hues in the media as heroes. The more you see people of color as the good guys, the less you’ll clutch your purse when you see a Black guy in the elevator. Every little bit helps. Until then, congratulations to Amandla Sternberg on her new role!

4 thoughts on “Rue is Black!

  1. I don’t know the book or characters, but this is encouraging. I’m happy for Miss Sternberg, and I love to see us in roles/movies where people don’t expect necessarily to us. And, what a name – Amandla means power, and I remember it as part of an anti-apartheid slogan that translated as “power to the people.” Nice!

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  2. First, “Congrations to Miss Amandla!”

    Second, my middle child (a male) has been caught up in The Hunger Games since Scholastics made them available via school book orders. In discussing the characters with him a few years back, he stated that he thought it was clever of Ms. Collins to only give brief physical descriptions of each character (olive skin, brown hair for one character; brown skin, brown eyes, brown hair for another chacter; brown skin like Rues for another. . .) and their Districts as to allow each reader to bring to their political, social, environmental, and cultural experience into the reading. From his mindset, the only characters that could almost definately be 10% Caucasian would be Katniss since he almost felt that was Ms. Collin as a teen; and another character described as porcelain skin and red hair.

    When discussing the recent casting of Rue and Thresh a few days ago, he was a little bent by the fact that many (not most but many) of the young people he correspondes with via cyberworld (youtube) totally “lost” it when Amandla was casted as Rue. He told his Dad and I that many of the young readers were upset that both Rue and Thresh were given to African American actors even though they both were described as having brown skin and eyes (unless they were extremely dirty from poverty not allowing them baths either of them being Caucasian is a long leap into the imagination), it was as if our Caucasian children automatically felt a sense of “entitlement” that The Hunger Games characters belonged exclusively to them. . . as if all people of color had been destroyed. So, like the curious Mom that I am, I youtubed The Hunger Games and yes, comments about Rue and Thresh being played by African American actors has made some pretty interesting comments.

    Lastly, WOW and Hmmmmmmmm, what does that tell us about our up and coming generation of young people moving racial divide off the map — what are we as parents needing to do or continue do in order to see and experience cultural/ethnic equality for our children before the dirt is thrown over our wooden boxes?

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    1. Exactly! I was also troubled by the responses of people about Rue’s casting. Some people were outright nasty! Your son is smart to have noticed that. I pictured a kind of mish-mash of races in the future as well. That’s the kind of thing we need to teach kids; that critical thinking about race that we want them to have about gender and other subjects.

      I think many white parents assume that if they don’t talk about race, it won’t be an issue for their children. As if just being good people will prevent prejudice. As parents, we all, but especially white parents need to treat race as any other topic. You talk about sex with your kids, why not race? By not talking about it, it becomes a taboo subject. Kids will be left to look at media to tell them about race, and we all know what kind of messages they will get from the media. If we hear a racist joke, we have to speak up about it, otherwise kids will think that racist jokes are okay. We need to expose our children to people that are different than us, so they will feel comfortable and know that “white” is not regular or the default, but only one of the many varieties in which people come.

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  3. …that should have read 100% Caucasian. I apologize for not spellchecking nor editing before sending my comment.

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