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?

Despite 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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