Oh No They Didn't: The Hunger Games Casting for 'Underfed' White Teenage Girls

katniss225.jpgThere's a little something wrong with the casting breakdown for Lionsgate's upcoming adaptation of Suzanne Collins' YA smash The Hunger Games. Or rather, a few little somethings: in a widely circulated casting call for the central part of Katniss, the fiercely independent young heroine of the dystopian survival trilogy, filmmakers are seeking girls who are Caucasian and look "underfed but strong." Is this fantasy franchise off to the wrong start?

A Wall Street Journal article detailing casting director Debra Zane's search for the perfect Katniss Everdeen -- the most sought-after role among young Hollywood actresses at the moment -- includes the four following criteria: The candidate must be between the ages of 15-20, be Caucasian, appear "underfed but strong," and be "naturally pretty underneath her tomboyishness."

The debate over Katniss's on-screen ethnicity (or lack thereof) has raged in the Hunger Games fan community ever since a film adaptation was announced, owing to author Collins' seemingly specific descriptions of the young heroine's ethnicity. Described as having dark hair, olive skin, and gray eyes (in contrast to her fair-haired mother and sister), Katniss is thought by some readers to be of Mediterranean, Latin, Asian, or mixed descent.

By the same token, Katniss's colorings could also suggest a brunette Caucasian girl, as in the novel's official marketing materials (above). Either way, it's fair to say that Collins' ambiguity was purposeful in this regard. So the question isn't, "Is Katniss white?" but "Could Katniss possibly be anything other than white?"

In casting only for Caucasian performers, the filmmakers seem to close the door on that possibility. But as in the racebending issue surrounding last year's Avatar: The Last Airbender (a controversy unlikely to continue unless sequels follow, which they won't), is that move warranted by the material or simply another case of Hollywood whitewashing? There aren't many good reasons for excluding non-white performers from consideration based on Collins' books and characters, aside from the desire to appeal to the dominant paradigm in the film's marketing materials. If Collins is on board with this and has any argument in favor of the casting move, she should start explaining.

Still, it's unclear if the ethnic criterion applies to the 50 actresses who have already read in person for the role, or if the limitation is in place to filter results of Lionsgate's open casting call, which has garnered over 1600 resumes from unknowns according to the WSJ. Just based on the numbers, you'd think that Zane and director Gary Ross have given consideration to the dozen or so established young actresses who've been championed by fans, including Chloe Moretz, Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld, The Vampire Diaries' Malese Jow and The Twilight Saga's Jodelle Ferland - the latter two of whom would give Katniss a more ethnic feel. (Both Jow and Ferland made the shortlist for Movieline's Hunger Games casting gallery, but were omitted on the basis of Jow's age and Ferland's unproven action chops, respectively.)

Which brings us to the second troubling requirement in Lionsgate's casting breakdown, which specifically targets teenagers as young as 15 years old: What does it mean to look "underfed but strong," and does such wording send an unhealthy message out to the thousands of Katniss hopefuls dreaming of being plucked from obscurity for the part?

Alternate words that might have conveyed Katniss's small stature, which the books explain as the product of living on a limited food supply and having to hunt to provide for her family, include: Lean, petite, athletic, wiry. All physical traits, but considerably less suggestive than "underfed."

I mean, yes. It's called The Hunger Games. But does that mean its star has to look like she's been starving before the cameras roll? Sound off below, Mockingjays.



Comments

  • zozo says:

    Ok so you are not affiliated with racebending.com or anyone else you're just a nimrod troll. Whitewashing is real but it does not apply here. Somehow it was determined that because the character of Katniss has dark hair and olive skin then she must be of ethnic origin but, that was NEVER stated in the book....some fans inexplicably reached the conclusion that dark hair and olive skin =Asian, Indian, Latina and it does not. It will get messy but, not the way you think?? what the hell does that mean?...yeah, it sounds so threatening. Also, whatever you wrote in German...we are all impressed now, just go back to your computer and continue to write angry things to people.

  • T-Rex says:

    In accordance with what Jen said, we should look at WHY white actors make more money with a white audience, not just accept it as fact, and have the courage to try harder to buck the status quo.
    If we continue to go with the circular logic of "whites want to see whites, therefore we will cast whites and market them to whites," and likewise for black-dominated films and audiences etc, then of course we can expect nothing to change.

  • Nosferatu says:

    Yep, I'm just troll. You got it. Man, you can see right through me. Scary. Unfortunately though, you can't even see where you contradict yourself in your own posts... Oh, the trees... the trees... :(
    "Somehow it was determined that because the character of Katniss has dark hair and olive skin then she must be of ethnic origin but, that was NEVER stated in the book"
    Exactly, it was never stated that Katniss must be of ethnic origin or caucasian or a "mutt", but then why limit your casting options by adding the criterion "caucasian only"?! Therefore whitewashing applies here!!! Do you even read what you write or do just faceroll over your keyboard? O.o
    Fans are just supporting the actresses that they think would be a perfect or near perfect match for the role of Katniss. And since in the books it was never stated that Katniss is caucasian, mixed or ethnic... well, all fans supporting either ethnic, mixed or caucasian actresses were and still are right in their conclusion, no?
    Whitewashing... :)
    Yeah, it sounds so threatening... sorry. But then again it wasn't even meant for you, unless you're working for Lionsgate?! huuuh... Well, I guess some people only read, hear and see what they want to see, hence they will never see the truth. But I believe it's easier for those people to live all their life blindfolded. Live in their own little world so to speak; because the truth can be pretty scary sometimes. :) To each his own then. :D
    Oh, you should be impressed, because it is one of the best quotes by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. But maybe that's just not for you. I mean reading the thoughts of great minds. It would imply an affinity to history and culture in general. But I'm not implying that you have no cultural background. By God, no, for all I know you could be a major is literature or history. Well, unless you're just another 14 year old THG fan. But I don't know you, just like you do not know me. :)
    Go back to my computer? Which one? I have four? Pick one! :) Say the triple screen please, I don't want to stare at one screen all the time. Busy, busy, busy... =)
    I write angry things to people? Umm, yeah, no... I only write what's on my mind and I haven't attacked anyone on a personal level. But if one of my previous statements could be considered as libeling some individual here, I've corrected it right away in the following sentence, haven't I? *confused* (Uh, well, ok, that you being ignorant statement wasn't so fair. You 1 - 0 Me... See now you're winning... whatever that means anyway. ;)
    Oh, nope, wait... whitewashing! You 1 - 1 Me = tie! Ha! =)

  • Shurley says:

    4 words: HOLLYWOOD. IS. FUCKN'. RACIST. YEAH, YOU HEARD ME!!!!!

  • Elisabeth says:

    Katniss has grey eyes, a blonde sister, and an Anglo surname. She is depicted as a white girl on the covers of some editions. If Collins intended her to be specifically nonwhite, as she did Rue, she did a bad job making that clear in the text and related materials. I hate that people are making this a racial controversy.

  • Gabby says:

    Well if sources are to be believed, Jennifer Lawrence is the front-runner for the role of Katniss. And she's anything, but underfed.

  • terri says:

    I think Katniss is Melungeon... The Melungeons were ‘discovered’ in the Appalachian Mountains in 1654 by English explorers and were described as being ‘dark-skinned with fine European features, (meaning they were not black) and as being a hairy people, who lived in log cabins with peculiar arched windows, (meaning they were not Indians). They practiced the Christian religion, and told the explorers in broken Elizabethan English, that they were ‘Portyghee,’ but were described as being ‘not white,’ that is, not of Northern European stock, even though some of them had red hair and others had VERY striking blue or blue/green eyes. Where did these people come from? Recent research is answering that question. And it appears that they may be a combination of Turks, Spaniards, Portugese, Moor, Berber, Jew and Arab.

  • Miller says:

    Actually, that is a perfect casting breakdown. If you would have read the book before ranting you would know that the book begins in a dystopian society where everyone in the outlying areas away from the capital are indeed underfed and have to scrounge to get the food they need. The only ones that are well fed are those that live in the capital and then the contestants of the games after they arrive in preparation for the games.

  • Jen Yamato says:

    Not that this matters to me personally, but might be interesting to note the following from The Hollywood Reporter:
    "People were so desperate for any sign of color at the Feb. 27 ceremony that many media outlets, including the Boston Globe, accepted as fact the rumor that True Grit nominee Hailee Steinfeld's mother is part African-American. (Steinfeld's rep told THR that the claim, spread on the Internet in recent days, is erroneous.)"
    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/black-thor-actor-blasts-debate-164048

  • zozo says:

    Wow, I'm one of the dopes who read in the Boston Globe regarding Hailee Steinfeld and they did in fact write that Miss Steinfeld was part African American and I thought it was fact. So,I was wrong and I stand corrected, Jen. Anyway, It's also worth noting that straight black hair, olive skin and gray eyes are physical characteristics that are very common throughout Western Ireland they are called "Black Irish" I was wondering if Collins (which is an Irish name) based the description of Katniss on a family member. Collins is fair haired but, perhaps someone in her family has that "Black Irish" look...just a thought.

  • LemuelG says:

    Katniss' sister is explicitly described as having blonde hair. The girls share both mother and father, and should thus come from the same game pool. Hence, this must be a gene pool that is able to result in blonde hair, and that is what Katniss' genes must be made of.
    Consequently, and as I do not know of any non-Caucasians who are naturally blondes, this strongly implies that Katniss should be Caucasian, as her sister seems to be.
    I am far from saying that no colored actress could play the part; I would not mind seeing one trying it out, no matter what the original book says (it's called adaptation for a reason). But in any case, the producers have some reason to believe Katniss is meant to be of mainly Caucasian origin.
    Personally, I favor Hailee Steinfeld. She might be young when the first film is made, but not too young - and she'll be just the right age when the sequels will film.

    • no stop says:

      Are you stupid? Plenty of Spanish people are naturally blondes. Plenty of Europeans are naturallY BLONDE! Get your fucking head out of your ass. And stop using the word Caucasian to describe white people because not all white people are from the Caucasus islands.

  • hopper says:

    even if hailee isn't part african american, she would still be considered someone of mixed background rather than purely caucasian since her grandfather is listed as filipino which makes hailee 1/4 asian filipino.

  • Gelatin says:

    The Melungeons are in fact a mixture of European, sub-Saharan African, and Native American ancestry.

  • Victoria says:

    "Katniss has grey eyes, a blonde sister, and an Anglo surname."
    Your point? I have green eyes, a blonde sister, an Anglo surname (Coton) and yet I'm a Person of Color - my father is half Black half Japanese.
    1) blonde hair/light skin/light eyes are not exclusively white traits.
    2) there was this thing, maybe you've heard of it - it lasted for quite a while (as in centuries), called COLONIALISM. Where Europeans went around draining resources, abusing, massacring, kidnapping, ENSLAVING people and RAPING women. The slaves were forced to have the surnames of their slavers and the children of the raped women were often forced to take the surnames of their abusers. As such, People of Color have long had Anglo surnames.
    3) There are also mixed-race children who have Anglo surnames.
    tl;dr: your ignorance = astounding.

  • K says:

    Just because you don't know any non-white people who are naturally blond, doesn't mean there aren't any non-white people who are naturally blond. My grandmother is black, with blond hair and blue eyes. My mother has very dark skin and brown eyes, but all of her brothers and sisters have light skin and blue/green eyes.
    If you need pictures, Google Victoria Rowell (black/biracial actress) and her daughter. Her daughter has blond hair, pale skin, blue eyes and features most Americans would consider "white". Garcelle Beauvais Nilon is a black woman, and one of her biracial/black children has ash-blond hair. Just recently, Paula Patton (biracial/black) who is married to Robin Thicke, has a son with blond hair, blue eyes and pale skin.
    Moving away from the American population, Melanesians and Australians (Aborigine) have naturally blond hair, sometimes up to 100% of the population.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buOT7ZkgUXI
    So yeah, it is possible (and in many instances common) for multiracial, black and non-white people to have blond hair.

  • K says:

    See, this is what people are talking about. WHY do we have to explicitly say that someone is black or Asian, but if a person is white, they are just the "default"?

  • Nina says:

    I don't even know why this has to be such a huge issue. Olive skin can be anything from fair to tanned, just so long as it has a greenish or yellowish tinge. Besides, the people complaining about this are the same people who are against District 11 being African-American because of the unfortunate implications. They say Katniss is supposed to be the same, but since her upper-class mother is clearly Caucasian, then that definitely makes her lower-class father African-American. That still has bad implications.
    We would have no problems with this if she was not of mixed descent, but she is. Several centuries have passed, OF COURSE she's got a huge chance of being mixed. Everyone does.

  • Ms says:

    I agree, and if I remember - the author's last name happens to be Melungeon and many of that heritage are considered (or appear to be) fully caucasian.

  • Anon says:

    Just stumbled upon this from TV Tropes, and for what it's worth I always pictured people from the Seam looking Albanian/Macedonian/Greek, and the merchants looking Northern European, so I always figured Katniss looked how you would expect someone with a dark-haired Greek father and a blonde Swedish mother to look, but taking after her father more. As for the 'underfed' part, I agree that the obsession with thinness in Hollywood is pathological, but the plot of The Hunger Games doesn't exactly glamourise the fact the citizens of District 12 are constantly on the verge of starving to death.

  • INa says:

    I think the problem is not so much with the casting, but in the fact that people are waking up to the fact that there are not many movies (or at least blockbuster) that have non-white (typically european) leads in them. I can not argue that situation is due to racism in hollywood as I haven't experienced the industry on the inside so to say. However, what I can point out is that most recent books I've read and most classics mainly have characters in them that are white. And I believe that this trend of having mainly white leads in the movies has something to do with the fact that the books that the movies are based on have characters in them who are described as being white.
    Also it is important to note that in previous years racism and skin colour perception couple of decades ago was very different to what it is now. White people did dominate the western world and not only in the context of movies. I also think that the times are changing and I can see it now. People are moving away from the old preconceptions of skin and colour. And it will begin to be reflected in the media and entertainment industry soon enough. It is important to just keep going forward. It is also important for the directors and casting agents to take more risks by casting variety of people. At the end of the day when a movie is an adaptation of the book you can play around with skin colour , especially when its not central to the plot.

    Having said that I think Jennifer will make a decent Katniss and she is a talented young lady. White, black or brown or yellow no one should be discriminated based on their skin colour, it has to be about talent or skill be it a job opportunity or people and their character.

    • Has Anyone Looked at an Olive Lately says:

      "I think the problem is not so much with the casting, but in the fact that people are waking up to the fact that there are not many movies (or at least blockbuster) that have non-white (typically european) leads in them."

      The problem is most definitely with the casting. No one is "waking up", many of us have been conscious of this problem for years. There is blatant racism in Hollywood as well as in many other facets of the entertainment industry. Simply ask yourself: Why aren't there more movies (or at least blockbusters) that have non-white (typically European) leads in them?

      "An adjacent office holds yet another potential entry point for aspiring Katnisses, one that reflects the technical changes sweeping the business. On a wide computer monitor is a website run by Breakdown Services, where Ms. Zane's staff has posted the single paragraph laying out the filmmakers' broad criteria for Katniss. She should be Caucasian, between ages 15 and 20, who could portray someone "underfed but strong," and "naturally pretty underneath her tomboyishness." Since the notice was posted two weeks ago, more than 1,600 resumes had been submitted for the role of Katniss. So far, 25 of these submissions had been moved to a "selected" heading for potential contenders." (Wall Street Journal)

      Katniss' character is racially ambiguous. An opportunity for all actors indiscriminate of race, ethnicity, or color should have been presented, but, it was not. The filmmakers' "broad criteria" was limited to "White Only". That is what makes this a race issue.

      "I can not argue that situation is due to racism in hollywood as I haven't experienced the industry on the inside so to say."

      Do you really have to be on the "inside" to know that there is a problem? Examples of discrimination, segregation, and privilege in the media are being delivered to us daily. I'll even use your observation as an example:

      "However, what I can point out is that most recent books I've read and most classics mainly have characters in them that are white. And I believe that this trend of having mainly white leads in the movies has something to do with the fact that the books that the movies are based on have characters in them who are described as being white."

      Why isn't there a trend of having more with POC's (People of Color) as the lead in novels? This would bring about more films based on characters that are POC.

      "Also it is important to note that in previous years racism and skin colour perception couple of decades ago was very different to what it is now. White people did dominate the western world and not only in the context of movies. I also think that the times are changing and I can see it now. People are moving away from the old preconceptions of skin and colour. And it will begin to be reflected in the media and entertainment industry soon enough. It is important to just keep going forward. It is also important for the directors and casting agents to take more risks by casting variety of people. At the end of the day when a movie is an adaptation of the book you can play around with skin colour , especially when its not central to the plot."

      Soon enough? Why not now? How long should someone wait to have the same opportunities as everyone else?

      Here are a few links for you to view. I hope this helps you to "wake up" to the fact that color perception has not changed. Systemically, normalcy is defaulted to Anglo culture, based on the casting of this film and the murder of several Black teens in the Southern U.S., people are NOT moving away from the old preconceptions of skin and color.

      Time Wise: The Pathology of White Privilege
      http://vimeo.com/25637392

      Moving the Race Conversation Forward:
      http://www.raceforward.org/research/reports/moving-race-conversation-forward

      "At the end of the day when a movie is an adaptation of the book you can play around with skin colour , especially when its not central to the plot."

      You should read the book then. The visual and economic contrast of the characters is directly related, not only geographically, but to their skin color as well.

      Please take the time to do your research.

  • zacraze says:

    i am black irish and i think thats what katniss is.

  • Ronny says:

    It's blown out of proportion, it is not a fight between white and black . It should be take as easy.

    Ronny

    • Jewel says:

      To say that something has been "blown out of proportion" is dismissive to anyone that has been a victim of discrimination. Check your privilege.

  • Has Anyone Looked at an Olive Lately says:

    The ONLY WHITE NEED APPLY casting is what makes this a race issue. The fact that all ethnicities were not considered for the role, as Katniss’ character is racially ambiguous--Olive skin, dark hair, and grey eyes encompasses a range of ethnicities.

    It’s not just about the heroine being white; the opportunity for POC (People of Color) to audition for the role wasn’t even extended. It really is that simple.

  • baby-boi says:

    Well, the author said there has been a lot of "race mixing". Most likely Katniss' mother is white and Katniss' father is a person of color

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