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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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