Surprise, Surprise, Movie Fans are Racially Biased (Context for the “Hunger Games” Fiasco)

Surprise, Surprise, Movie Fans are Racially Biased (Context for the "Hunger Games" Fiasco)

Yes, there was a giant racial dust-up over the release of The Hunger Games yesterday. Yes, we saw the Jezebel article, capturing the outcry of "racist" moviegoers who were upset that the character Rue, who some Hunger Games fans apparently envisioned as white, was cast in the film as black (played by the very adorable Amandla Stenberg). And yes, we received all the notes from readers prompting a reply.

Perhaps we were slow to respond on this, simply because it's not a shock. It's been shown, in various surveys and studies, that by and large, white audiences prefer to see themselves on screen. The sentiment is so strong that it caused many moviegoers to overlook the fact that Rue was described as "dark-skinned" in the original Hunger Games novel.

Maybe this situation was more disturbing than others due to the implications about the value of black life. After all, [spoiler] Rue is killed off in the course of the movie, and some of the remarks from moviegoers flat out stated that her blackness made them less sensitive to her death. Said one fan, "when I found out Rue was black her death wasn't as sad."

In light of the recent Trayvon Martin case, it seems that society has sent an overwhelming message that there's a far higher premium placed on white life and white experiences. So should we be at all surprised that films, and film fans, reflect the same attitudes? To provide some context, I turned to Entmann & Rojecki's The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America: 

The media almost always pay far more attention to a murder victim on Park Avenue than to one on 125th Street. Sadly, a Black murder victim in a Harlem tenement conforms to expectations, so is less newsworthy than a White corpse in a midtown penthouse. The resulting emphases profoundly imply that White life is more valuable than Black.

The authors go on to describe biased behavior (such as griping about the blackness of movie characters?) as "racial animosity":

Racial animosity occupies an important step short of racism. Although those exhibiting animosity often get labeled as racists, they do not see their stereotyped anti-Black generalizations as adding up to a natural racial order that places Whites on top and legitimizes discrimination. Rather, animosity consists of less intense and all-encompassing stands on the four dimensions [negative homogeneity, structural impediments, conflicting group interests, and emotional responses].

So, while a group of people may not actively hate another group, they might just bear some really harmful attitudes about race, based on all the media messages that they've been consuming over the years.

After all, if all the films, TV shows, entertainment and news coverage that we see throughout our lives ever so slightly imply that black people, black stories or black life is inferior, or maybe just less important…

Well, you get situations like what happened yesterday.

Suddenly, it seems more important that there are more black writers, and showrunners, and producers, and executives, and support for black characters and black stories. Maybe it does make a difference that there's more than one black person cast in your favorite film, and more than one "token" appearing in your favorite sitcom. Because maybe "entertainment" is more impactful that most of us would like to admit.

Again, for me, it's not a surprise. The question is, what do you plan to do about it?


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"It's been shown, in various surveys and studies, that by and large, white audiences prefer to see themselves on screen." As do blacks, Asians and Latinos. It's called cultural bias, sweetheart, and everyone harbors it.


Ever since the president was elected racism has been at an all time high. Well, I have an idea. It really isn't new because we've done it before. We cannot make people accept us. Me personally, I could care less. But I do love all people and I really love my own people. We are all over the world and I've been to many of those places. The racist nonsense that is on twitter is nothing for us to even waste our time on. Let the racist continue to make racist remarks while we continue to make strides as a people together.
We have struggled for hundreds of years and due to our struggles everyone has benefited. Affirmative Action benefited everyone and it benefited White Women more than any other race. Many people cannot believe or refuse to accept that fact, but it is true. We were able to get the first African American president elected. Now check it. We had to come together and we did the impossible and by doing so the whole country has benefited. Could you all imagine what it would be like if another neoconservative won that election? We need not be concerned with the negativity of racism. Racism has been here and it isn't going to go away. We need and should speak up and act on racism when one of us is killed because of our race. But racist see that they don't really need to do that because we are doing it all for them.
What we need to do is clean up our communities and I'm not just talking about trash. We need to rid ourselves of the devils in our communities who prey on defenseless people. Those who have no consideration for others or their property. We need to begin to open up businesses in our own communities and support them. We need to do for and take care of OURSELVES. Where I live, the area is mixed. Black, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and a few Cubans . Many of the Latinos are Afro Latino and they open businesses and stores that we all use and their prices are reasonable. But, every now and then some devil will come in and rob and kill the store owners. So what happens?
Black and Latino store owners become afraid to open businesses in their own neighborhoods. Many of those murders go unsolved because the cops, many of them white and racist, could care less because they're robbing those stores as well. And what is even more disturbing is that many Black and Latino cops have begin to feel the same way. They deal with those within our race who commit crimes and are strung out on drugs on a daily basis. So it is up to us to take a stand do what we need to do and we do not need anyone's help. We need to do some house cleaning by any means necessary. Other races come to America and they flourish because they have what we've lost. Their culture. What did we choose to do just to be able to be accepted by racist whites? We assimilated. What a mistake. We've lost our soul and our culture because of assimilating. We need to get into us as a people. We are not perfect and neither is anyone or any other race. And until the world realizes that we all need each other and that there is only one race and that is the Human Race we will have racism.


Nadine, when it's all said and done —>


I read through all the comments and was a bit confused by some claiming that some black people (writers and readers of this blog) actively look for black representation on screen so shouldn't be outraged that white people claim they cannot relate to a black character on screen. Both attitudes cannot be compared. I'm African but watch films from all over the world: American, Asian, Korean, Chinese, French, you name it. And I've never had any issue relating to any non-black characters, because some experiences are just universal. We all breathe, live, love, suffer, die. But I also actively research and watch films from the black diaspora not because I feel like I would relate more but because we are also part of that universal experience, something that the media at large choose to overlook.


With the Issa Rae ABG incident – and with the way she responded to that sore loser "bitches be triiiiiiiiipin" and "Racists haaaaaate me, I'm on my OJ. #ABGNation."
Best response ever. Just keep striving – no one can take success from you if you don't deserve it.
I'm so sick of being sad about this crap, I'm going to use this negativity to do better and shove it in their faces.


What we're doing is hiring cinemas, church halls, art galleries and youth clubs then hosting film nights and screening all those films that dont get publicised or even released, We follow the film up with a Q an A with black industry officials and run workshops on the black history and the black image in media. We publish a fortnightly newsletter focusing on films which feature African diaspora stories from around the world and run media analysis classes in schools and for the general public. We encourage amateur film-makers by screening their work and get bedroom-editors to produce Hollywood blockbuster style trailers with positive black images. We also blog and write about racial disparities and stereotypes in films which do and dont get released as many people are seriously unaware of the extent of racism in media as evidenced by reaction to the Hunger Games young crackers


Why is this even news? White folks don't like Black folks in their movies, shocking!! Whatever, the Japanese "Hunger Games" flick was much better, and no racial "controversy" there..


LOL @ all of you who actually think CareyCarey is a black person.

Traci R.

The cast wasn't ALL that diverse…ooh 3 blacks folks in the whole friggin' movie. And you just had to see another one of your pasty asses up on screen to be happy? Between this, Trayvon Martin and whatever fuckery happened with ABG and the Shorty Awards yesterday…White people are getting on my last damn nerve right about now.

Nikki Star

Thank you! I started in this game as an actress and then I relaized that there is more power in the pen. We have to tell our stories people, no one can tell it better than us! What are we waiting for?


I AM a RACIST?! YOU ARE A RACIST! What is a racist and should we really care? I don't.

We've been down this road before, haven't we? With a variety of celebrities, politicians and others who made inappropriate comments or jumped to conclusions about someone in a way that at least raised the possibility of racial bias… In each instance, our discourse on the event focuses on the question: is this person a racist? But does it really matter? Are the racist (or sexist or homophobic) slurs any less impactful when the person who utters them genuinely believes he doesn't have a bigoted bone in his body? Does the race-tinged perception of an individual as more suspicious (or any other stereotypical assessment) become less problematic if the person who looked through those biased lenses otherwise has the best of intentions?
Is the threshold for avoiding a charge of prejudice really as low as having a few black friends? And, while we're at it, did you tell those black people when you befriended them that they'd be serving as your get-out-of-racism-free card? For that matter, how can we ever expect the "Is s/he a racist"? question to lead to any sort of consensus? A few years ago I and a colleague published a series of studies looking at how people define "racist" The answer? We set the bar just past where we ourselves are. So what makes someone a racist? You may not know, but you do know it's NOT YOU. Ouch… one more time… "but you know it's not YOU?" Well, this bit of insight was taken from an article by Sam Sommers, a writer at Huffington Post. I believe it just about covers every comment in this thread. Hate? Racism? Bigot? Prejudice? racial discrimination? These f*ckers? seasoned racist? Active hate versus passive hate? illiterate jackasses? little racists? New racists? Who is a racist? WHO CARES? I don't.


I agree with Chrscoche below. Yes, I was appalled by those reactions, especially because these were young teens/adults, and I thought the new generation knew better (silly me!)..but really unless you live in a bubble, you know there's ingorant, racist idiots. Also, the film is HUGE, so many people have seen it and loved it; so in the end, it's great that black actors were cast in poignant roles. I don't recall the last blockbuster hit of this magnitude with a diverse cast like this, besides Fast Five. I'm not saying Hollywood is now color blind, or that this is proof of a post-racial society (FAR FROM IT!), but it is a positive thing. These f*ckers sure weren't expecting it. People OF ALL RACES are not used to seeing black people in mainstream film roles that you should care about period! It's really a shame that it's 2012, and it seems like it's a new trend to cast more than one actor of color in key roles in a highly anticipated big-budget film.

Also, it is sad and scary of how more people feel the same way but they just don't tweet about it. Racism is way more subtle than what those tweets suggest. I'm glad it was addressed publicly, that those tweets were exposed, and that those a$$holes closed and/or locked their accounts. That sends a message that it's not going to be tolerated. By the way, the writer for the Jezebel article is Caucasian. We have to keep in mind, people of all races have been disgusted by the bigotry regarding the cast in this film. Anyways, if I'm going to support a Hollywood big-budget production this year, it's going to be this one.


A large Black cast plus misguided racial disappointment and somehow the pic still makes 200 mil in its first weekend. There's a real, overlooked message we're missing here, folks. And the lesson is a positive one.


Oh please people, come on, we act like the Klan didn't have children, and their children didn't have children, and those children didn't have friends who had more friends, who spread out through out the land and went to school with these same beliefs and learned how to cement those beliefs. And then became cool to their friends because of those beliefs and seriously took to heart even the myths of those Beliefs. And henceforth you have what is called seasoned racist. Did some one in this post state we have a lot of work to do, wow' do we!


I'm sorry (haven't read the book) but if the character was described as "dark-skinned," how stupid are these surprised moviegoers? Did they think that meant she had an all access life time tanning pass or some shit? I'm also not buying the theorization made in the cited academic work: "So, while a group of people may not actively hate another group." NO. When you say, "when I found out Rue was black her death wasn't as sad," that means you HATE black people. Active hate versus passive hate? That is a useless distinction, and I'm fairly certain that it is a short walk from passive hate to active hate, whatever the hell active hate means. You hate someone (or a group of people) or you don't. Period. Thinking black folks dying is less sad than white folks dying is HATE, plain and simple. I'm tired of us black folks trying to make theories about anti-black behavior and attitudes. Many people simply HATE us. It's as simple as that. The more complicated part involve the reasons for which they hate us because then we have to get into history and most of all power and money.


Shameful….just shameful. Then again, these same people are illiterate jackasses, so they shouldn't be taken seriously. :)


Reading this post you would come away with the notion that the only the race of Rue led to those racist tweets. But the truth is that the actors who were picked to play Thresh and Cinna also came under scrutiny/attack by these silly individuals (although perhaps even the little racists have an argument at best when it comes to the casting of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna). Please, stop making it all about one character because that would almost suggest that racism wasn't at play in their dislike for Rue because they were fine with Thresh and Cinna. Don't give them such cover. Those individuals seem to have a probelm in general with black people having ANY prominnet role in the movie. Period.


So much for the "racism will die out with the older folks" argument. I guess the racism vaccine that they gave out in the 60's didn't take like people expected. New racists are being made everyday to replace the old ones!

Miles Ellison

I actually think that those comments were knee-jerk racist responses to seeing any black people in a "white" movie. And if these people's comments were serious, they are racist illiterates. It's clear that they didn't actually read the book. Or couldn't understand it. That is a much greater hurdle to overcome.


I 'am agree, we don't need to wait after Hollywood or anything else, we need to create movie who give a positive image of us, we need to support our own movies, when you're black, people doesn't allow you any mistakes, in France, black people who have movies role are still bad boys, they aren't good person, they plays ghetto role, thief role, they don't have classical role. Like in USA Producer explain that a film with black actor on the lead role don't make money. Thing gonna change by ourself, people like Ava Duvernay does many things to promote our cinema, in reading shadow and act i buy many DVD, i hear many good thing a bout the movies i don't know. Thank every people who try everyday to promote our cinema, i just create a web Tv call melting black siné about Afro descent film.

Truly Caribbean Woman

A. Writing my own stories.


This is great Jasmin!!!

I think the thing that shocked me the most about the HG comments was the age of the commenters. This is our "future"? We have a lot of work to do. And I understand the desire to "see yourself" in movies/tv but these commenters acted as if they OWNED the HG story. They took their disappointment to a whole new shameful(and scary) level.

And yes, we've always needed more black writers, producers, directors, executives, etc. Spike Lee has been preaching this for decades now.

But I have a question: do you think that by seeking race-neutral roles black actors miss rare opportunities to change the narrative of blacks on screen/in the media? For example, Neil Cross says the character of Luther has "no color"(paraphrase), which is what attracted Idris to the role. But what if the description of Luther had been a black man? Same script, same character development. Could Idris have used this as an opportunity to show a side of blacks the media rarely shows…a complicated, multi-dimensional man who also happens to be a brilliant thinker and the best at what he does?

I hope my question makes sense. Interested to hear feedback.


It is very sad and by no means a good thing, but it is true that people relate more to those of their own ethnic group. It isn't just white people: black people relate more to black characters, white people to white characters, latino people to latino characters, etc.
If you look at the % of each racial demographic for each movie, it correlates with the race of the protagonist. Don't just bash white people–everyone suffers from it.
In a way, it makes sense. We like to see movies with people we identify with most. Personality, physical traits, ethnicity–they all apply.

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