Why All the Racist Comments on Black Actors in ‘The Hunger Games’?

Some social-media users are buzzing that “The Hunger Games” has too many Black actors, and many of the comments are downright racist. Should consumer-facing companies, like producer Lions Gate, try to reflect the nation’s demographics?

Hunger Games Poster GroupDespite a record-breaking $155-million opening box-office weekend, hit movie “The Hunger Games” wasn’t a hit with all fans. The film’s release last weekend was followed by increasing numbers of negative tweets and comments among social-media users. The basis for the controversy? Three important characters—Rue (Amandla Stenberg), Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz)—were played by Black actors.

The tweets, as various news sources like Yahoo and Jezebel show, were often racist: “why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie” and “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.” Read more of these tweets.

Better Read Again

To answer why the producer, Lions Gate, made “all the good characters Black,” as one Twitter user asks, fans simply need to read the incredibly popular trilogy, set in a decidedly multicultural post-apocalyptic society. Author Suzanne Collins describes the world of Panem’s as a society where ethnicity is not defined as it is today and most people are of mixed race.

In the text, Collins clearly describes at least two of the characters in question as dark-skinned with thick, dark hair. (She also confirms that they are Black in a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly.) The book’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is not your typical blond-haired, white heroine; she has olive skin with straight, black hair. According to racebending.com, the trilogy is one of the few young-adult books that have a biracial or multiracial protagonist.

Lions Gate has a history of films that deal with race relations and star multiracial casts. Examples include “Monster’s Ball” (2001) and “Crash” (2004). “Monster’s Ball” (starring Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry and Taylor Simpson) tells the story of a racist prison guard who falls in love with a Black woman; “Crash” (with Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock and Thandie Newton), which won Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing at the 2006 Academy Awards, follows a multiracial group of characters in Los Angeles over a 36-hour period and portrays the intense racial conflicts in the city.

Multicultural Awareness: From Films to the Workplace 

Movies like “Crash” and now “The Hunger Games” explore the notions of race. But with rapidly changing demographics in our country, it’s a dialogue that all consumer-facing organizations have to handle.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, white people will become a minority in the United States by 2050 (about 46 percent), while Latino (more than 30 percent), Black (about 13 percent) and Asian (about 8 percent) populations will continue to grow.

As one blog states, “As a Black, female filmmaker I always notice when there aren’t Black people and when there aren’t women in a film cuz in my world … it’s just not normal.” For movies to continue to resonate with and engage the American audience, screenplays will need to address these demographic shifts, as well as purposeful casting to ensure that all groups are adequately represented.

The workplace reflects the need for cultural competence/education and for demographics that reflect the changing population. Data from the DiversityInc Top 50, available at BestPractices.DiversityInc.com, shows that diversity-management initiatives such as resource groups and mentoring increase recruitment, promotion, engagement and retention of employees from underrepresented groups. Increasingly, companies with more workplace diversity better connect with the marketplace, our research shows.

Read these DiversityInc articles for more insight on how crucial diversity is to a business’s connection to the marketplace:

Increasing Diversity in Talent Development
Find out how AT&T, Merck, Ernst & Young, Wells Fargo and Northrop Grumman find, retain and promote talent to achieve equitable representation in management.

Talent-Development Webinar
Get your entire organization to contribute to and develop a healthy and diverse management pipeline.

DiversityInc Innovation Fest! Presentation by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Ethnic ERGs and Marketing
How can resource groups save your company millions? Novartis’ seven ethnically focused resource groups  have allowed it to take its customer research in house and have better, more culturally competent product development.

Case Study: Recruiting Women, Blacks
Target explains how its employee-resource groups and relationships with professional organizations benefit its talent development.

Employee-Resource Groups & Recruitment
What are best practices from six companies with the best recruitment results?

Diversity Recruitment Research
Five studies on the most effective means of recruiting Blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians and women.


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  • I think this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of. First we complain because there are not enough blacks and then we complain because there are too many. You are missing the point! The fact that we are EVEN THERE IS A WIN WIN! Secondly, look at the story line. You find love across races, caring across races, human relations being built. I thought the characters, regardless of race were tastefully depicted. The bigger issue for me was not the racial issue but the killing issue. If you want to complain, complain about that. Pitting children again children, teens against teens was more than I could take. We see to much of that in real life. This is a story of survival and one that may be more real than we think under the current world issues, but it is definitely NOT about race.

  • Did you ever think a competitor may be circulating these emails to squelch the popularity of the show?

  • I saw the movie and plan to go again. I’ve seen some of the comments which are totally absurd. Also my friend’s daughter plays Rue and is fantastic.

    My comment is do these people think the future of the world will only have white people? There are not too many blacks in this movie. In fact it is predominantly white. There is only one black female star and that is Rue.

    By the way, the book brings out diversity with the females.

    Thank you

  • They apparently didn’t read the books, where these characters were described as having brown skin!

  • Now I might just go see the movie. A lot of times due to the lack of Black actors do I even go to the movies.

  • It’s amazing how much commentary this is all gathering.
    We saw the movie last weekend (I’m engrossed in the 2nd book now).
    More than anything, I was actually personally struck by the fact that the black “tributes” came from the district that was characterized as rebellious in the film…. (This very much continues in the second book.) While I haven’t followed this social media outrage too quickly (read one other article a couple of days ago), I haven’t heard anyone addressing this pretty outright stereotype. Thoughts?

    • In response to the depiction of District 11, I did notice that the premonindately black district staged a riot and was portrayed as a more violent way than say District 12, which was mostly white with only a few black residents. I haven’t read the books and don’t plan to. I enjoyed the movie. Had no idea that anyone was supposed to be any particular color than what they were. No one stuck out as a sore thumb to me. I thought Rue was the cutest little thing in the movie and in real life. I was surprised when a collegue asked if I was aware of the comments on the internet. weren’t supposed to be that color.” What a sad commentary on the young people in our society. I enjoy saying that I’ve also seen many comm

  • There are apparently some people in the world who are either only interested in seeing movies where the characters are primarily white, or are only interested in seeing people of color in movies when they are portrayed negatively. In either case, this is not reality, and these people are not living in reality. My work place is diverse; my family is diverse; my world is diverse. THE WORLD IS DIVERSE! That’s reality.

  • IMO, the movie itself is overblown hype marketed to the kids that really adds no value to their reality. Except for the killking, of course. Its along the line of recent films that have dark themes that are used to appeal to the kids, a la th vampires, werewolves, witches and demons.

    That said, I can’t get in the mind of the directors and producers, but I would think that who they cast to play the roles are based on artistic values in mind first, and marketability second. Besides, who wants to see a movie with all white actors, when there is no basis for them being all white?

    The people tweeting this garbage are of a piece; these are the folks who are the festering sore exposed when the scab is peeled off an old wound. The “wound” is Obama; the festering is the racism that did not magically disappear as a result of him becoming president.

    Lastly, given the projected demographic changes, this could be a projection of the sour grapes at what the future holds. If the dinosaurs could have tweeted I can imagine they would have said similar things regarding their own impending doom.

    As for me, the world can’t wait…

  • The fact that some people take offense at the number of Black actors in a MOVE only reflects the extent to which rascism still exists in the United States. With Hollywood’s past history of using white actor’s for minority roies, I applaud Lion’s Gate for trying to create a real world scernario.

  • The reason for these comments is simple and Blake said it: Racism exists. I read an article recently about how KKK membership is on the rise in Colorado. Midwest states especially continue to have an uptick in white supremacist group interest, according to Associated Press reports. Sure, it’s good to have a dialogue about this, but stop acting so surprised when you hear that people make racists comments through social media. I’ve stopped reading forums and random posts just because it never fails — the racists chime in with their worthless comments. White Americans who are racists ignore the world around them. They want the world how they want it and nothing else will do. Asking them to face reality is useless. But don’t underestimate them, either. They are dangerous, and they exist everywhere — some are just not overt about it, which makes them the most dangerous of all. President Obama’s existence in the Oval Office has brought more of the covert ones to the surface, and, surprise, surprise, they have been revealed as people who have held congressional seats for YEARS.

  • “When I found out Rue was black *her death* wasn’t as sad” — didn’t that need a spoiler alert?

    • No. The entire premise of the book is that the children fight to the death.

    • Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, you just don’t get it, this is not 1950 any more. If you can not deal with people of color in this country, good luck, super good luck with the rest of the world. People have long memories the will not forget the ugly American. Wise up fast before it is too late.

  • Hype, spin, buzz. Some people are using this movie for political “Strirring of the Pot”. We are all incredibly responsive to the rantings of misguided persons. Anything to keep race as an issue in the media…divisive and diverting our attention from the real issues – you define for yourself what those incredible issues are. For me it is the onslaught against women, non-heterosexuals, non-Europeans, non-1%ers, and those who are capable of forming coherent and complete thoughts without parroting pundits (from the right and the left). Dare to be who you are.

  • “Pitting children again children, teens against teens was more than I could take. We see to much of that in real life.”

    THAT is the point in the apocalyptic world. There is no one race or ethnicity. Everyone is the same and has the same things to lose.

    Racial diversity absolutely did not touch my mind while I was reading the book. People have to get over themselves… we really are ONE.

  • Katniss is described as having olive skin and straight black hair. She is clearly, then, of either mixed race, or (more realistically) of some Hispanic descent. This is, after all, the Untied States of the future….Yet she is played by a white actress. It was okay that the supportive roles be portrayed accurately, but the lead role still had to be a white actress…..Can we not see how these racist comments, then, are no surprise? I think the film makers knew that the movie would not be as popular if their lead role was not white. They’re probably more aware of the racism amongst our population than we are.

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