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Hunger Games Director talks Casting 
17th-Mar-2011 08:34 pm
Lionsgate has confirmed that Jennifer Lawrence has been cast as Katniss and Entertainment Weekly interviewed director Gary Ross. For once, they asked some relevant questions:

There’s already quite a bit of hand-wringing that, no matter how good an actress Lawrence is, at 20 she’s simply too old for the role.
First of all I talked to Suzanne extensively about this. Suzanne saw every single audition. And not only did Suzanne not have an issue with Jen’s age, she felt you need someone of a certain maturity and power to be Katniss. This is a girl who needs to incite a revolution. We can’t have an insubstantial person play her, and we can’t have someone who’s too young to play this. Suzanne was incredibly adamant about this. Far from being too old, she was very concerned that we would cast someone who was too young. In Suzanne’s mind, and in mine, Katniss is not a young girl. It’s important for her to be a young woman. She’s a maternal figure in her family. She’s had to take care of Prim and in many ways her mother since her father’s death. She’s had to grow up pretty quick.

Was the opportunity to side step any child labor laws an added bonus?
That’s not the reason. I absolutely cast the right person for the role and in my view there wasn’t even a question who the best Katniss was. It was the easiest casting decision I ever made in my life.

In the books, Katniss is described as being olive-skinned, dark-haired, possibly biracial. Did you discuss with Suzanne the implications of casting a blonde, caucasian girl?
Suzanne and I talked about that as well. There are certain things that are very clear in the book. Rue is African-American. Thresh is African-American. Suzanne had no issues with Jen playing the role. And she thought there was a tremendous amount of flexibility. It wasn’t doctrine to her. Jen will have dark hair in the role, but that’s something movies can easily achieve. [Laughs] I promise all the avid fans of The Hunger Games that we can easily deal with Jennifer’s hair color.
18th-Mar-2011 03:54 am (UTC)
I'm relieved about Rue and Thresh.
18th-Mar-2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
I'm not.

He's fine with Rue and Thresh being black because they die and are never replaced with other prominent black characters. Thresh himself is a noble savage archetype if I've ever seen one (which means I'm not exactly putting the author of the books on a throne of authority when it comes to race representations). Them being black in the movie is a small victory, but not much of one.

Not to mention the director seems awfully dismissive of the racial issues in casting a blonde haired blue eyed white as white actress in a role that could have gone to a different type of actress - a darker skinned actress - in order to promote darker skinned actresses in major roles, which is sorely needed in Hollywood.
18th-Mar-2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
Something that really stands out to me in this issue is the constant blonde-bashing. Like blondes are some kind of symbol of whiteness. But then, she's not blone. I lost my link to a picture of her younger with her natural hair color, but here is one with her roots clearly showing:


Like 4/5 of all blondes, she's a bottle blonde. That doesn't suddenly make her casting ok, but that's how the director is taking it, because there are so many comments from the fandom about her blondness being the issue.
18th-Mar-2011 09:37 pm (UTC)

are you for real rn
18th-Mar-2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
19th-Mar-2011 12:26 am (UTC)
I believe that snark and wank to not add to real racial discrimination discourse. They have their place, certainly, but not when a subject is being discussed seriously.

But being blonde isn't some white-only-club thing. Hmong, Berber, Sami, and Inuits are some POC ethnic groups with blonde hair. Mixed race children can have blond hair. These people all deserve representation too.
19th-Mar-2011 03:28 am (UTC)
Caucasian, blonde, tan girls are pretty much an undeniable symbol of whiteness, which Lawrence exemplifies. we're not talking about a blonde person of another race; if we were, the complaints of whitewashing would be defunct. mostly your comment reads like OH NO SOMEONE THINK OF THE POOR BLOND PPL!! like it's. really something that gets seriously discriminated against.
19th-Mar-2011 03:35 am (UTC)
She's not blonde.
19th-Mar-2011 03:38 am (UTC)
Her hair is blonde.
19th-Mar-2011 03:41 am (UTC)
Ok - you can stop trolling now and re-read my comment fully.
19th-Mar-2011 03:45 am (UTC)
'Bottle blondes' are not removed from the blonde squad just because they aren't ~natural~. Appearance is what matters here; it's what this entire discussion is about. Just because someone disagrees with your opinion doesn't mean they're trolling.
19th-Mar-2011 04:57 am (UTC)
I wrote a huge long post, but I don't think anyone would read it. So I'll give you the tl;dr and only post the rest if someone is interested.

Jennifer Lawrence falls under the "exotic beauty" standard that old Hollywood execs are patting themselves on the back on and proclaiming how forward thinking they are.

Typical, idealized white beauty has been called "Classic Beauty". Hollywood has exchanged the "Classical" beauty ideal for the "Exotic" Beauty ideal. This increases the ability for mixed race actresses, like Hailee Steinfeld, to get parts. However, it's still casting people based on a certain standard of beauty and limiting others who don't fall into that standard.
19th-Mar-2011 05:16 am (UTC)
how is this relevant to anything

'Exotic Beauty' does not equal brown haired white girls. Exotic Beauty is used to describe hot brown girls who usually cast in parts of ~mysterious sassy foreigner~ love interests. Halle Berry is exotic beauty. Selma Hayek is exotic beauty. Jessica Alba is exotic beauty. Exotic beauty is not white.

Jennifer Lawrence is a white girl from West Virginia. And also? WHY DOES IT MATTER? Whether or not she's in whatever Hollywood beauty quadrant, how does this affect the debate over her being cast as a character fans see as bi-racial? She's an Exotic Beauty, a sort of aesthetic almost always associated with bi-racial women, so it's more okay that she got cast for this part? I honestly have no idea what you're going on about.
19th-Mar-2011 05:17 am (UTC)
Anyways - the reason I'm mentioning this is because, in order to explain to these guys why we think what they are doing is wrong, you first have to understand what they think they are doing, and what they think the fandom is saying. When you understand how they are thinking (oh look how forward we are by casting non-traditional beauty!) then it can be picked apart.
19th-Mar-2011 05:21 am (UTC)
okay what the hell you keep bringing different things into it

EXOTIC BEAUTY =! NON-TRADITIONAL BEAUTY. 'non-traditional beauty' is for the quirky indie girls like ellen paige or kat dennings. also, the 'look' of the actress is not mentioned anywhere in the article. as of right now, it's not relevant. i don't know why you've hooked on to the argument like it's somehow being thrown around willy-nilly by everyone.
19th-Mar-2011 05:30 am (UTC)
If you don't want to hear more, then please stop responding and requesting more information, thank you.
(Deleted comment)
19th-Mar-2011 01:56 pm (UTC)
A discussion is when two people with different views try to get inside each others heads and understand each other.

When someone in the discussion gets angry, and argument ensues. In an argument, the two parties are no longer trying to get together for mutual understanding. Instead, the two parties are trying to tear each other down.

Now, I think this is an interesting topic and would love to discuss it further - but not with someone who is so clearly angry. This comment "She is blonde" isn't a discussion. It's an argument - it's a comment made specifically to get me angry. That's how I would describe "trolling" - making comments designed to derail a discussion and turn it into an argument.

My main point was: She's not actually blonde, so focusing on that isn't such a great idea. The rest was just subject matter I find endlessly fascinating. :)
23rd-Mar-2011 03:55 am (UTC)
Why are you defending stigmatize when she or he herself or himself said that Katniss isn't a character of color?
(Deleted comment)
25th-Mar-2011 07:47 am (UTC)
It has to do with what you said because she or he herself or himself could be called trolling, and you're defending that. She or he stated that Katniss wasn't a character of color here.
18th-Mar-2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
Out of my entire comment, that's what you decide to respond to? As if that was the issue?
19th-Mar-2011 12:30 am (UTC)
I did put a plea on the last post to avoid blonde-bashing as could hurt the credibility of racebending since she's... not blonde.
19th-Mar-2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
18th-Mar-2011 11:21 pm (UTC)
I think in reading the novels, if you mentally cast the characters with a diverse imaginary cast a lot of the components of The Hunger Games that would be racially problematic can be mitigated.

For example, if Thresh is the only black male Tribute, then he is kind of tokenized as a silent but strong dark man stereotype. But if the field of Tributes is diverse and Katniss herself is diverse, then not so much.

Likewise, if Rue is the only character of color in the story then she becomes closer to a device, like the character of color who dies to further advance the white protagonist's narrative.

If all of District 12, District 13, and the defected Tributes are white, then it could come across as a small band of white heroes who get to do all the important stuff in the story.
18th-Mar-2011 03:59 am (UTC)
The problem is still the fact that the casting call went out seeking Caucasian girls to fill the role of Katniss and unfortunately, that wasn't asked about in this interview. So of course, it's possible that Jennifer Lawrence was the best one casting saw of the girls that were allowed to audition. But it also means there's potentially a great actress who doesn't fall under the label of Caucasian that missed out on the part.
18th-Mar-2011 04:32 am (UTC)
Well, that's great that Collins is ok with it, but I don't think she gets what a big deal it is for PoC (WoC!) to see themselves reflected back in positive roles. That said, I'll favor Death of the Author over Word of God.
18th-Mar-2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
people give way too much credit/authority to an author because she's an author as if she's 1000% aware of the issues concerning racial representations. She's not.
(Deleted comment)
18th-Mar-2011 05:26 am (UTC)
That's how I read that, too. He is stupid if he thinks that hair color is all we care about.
18th-Mar-2011 06:45 am (UTC)
I hate that deflection, trivializing legitimate issues is not exactly how you are going to win people over. :/ Since it was brought up anyway, why not try to speak about it with a little more depth? At least argue that the racial implications within her district aren't as important as class divides or something. We would still have words (especially about the ridiculous exclusionary language of the casting call) but I would find that more palatable than just being totally brushed off.
18th-Mar-2011 07:41 am (UTC)
18th-Mar-2011 05:02 am (UTC)
Yeah, we're not really concerned about her hair color here.

I'm glad they addressed Rue and Thresh, though. There's that. I won't be surprised if they get the lightest bi-racial actors to play them, though. Ugh.
18th-Mar-2011 05:05 am (UTC)
But but... Jennifer Lawrence doesn't look underfed! :P

Sigh. I'm just going to try not to think too hard about this to spare myself the disappointment. I didn't really expect, but I hoped.
18th-Mar-2011 05:25 am (UTC)
Agree. She doesn't look the part. Dying her hair won't fix that. Look at Rosalie in Twilight. Did bleaching her hair make her look like a convincing blond? Hell to the no. Makeup and hair don't fix EVERYTHING.
18th-Mar-2011 08:49 am (UTC) - Seriously?!?
[Laughs] I promise all the avid fans of The Hunger Games that we can easily deal with Jennifer’s hair color.

18th-Mar-2011 01:05 pm (UTC)
I am getting more and more pissed at all the defenders saying, "OH SO YOU'D RATHER HAVE SOMEONE WHO LOOKS THE PART BUT CAN'T ACT?!" The two are not mutually exclusive, people! You can have someone who both LOOKS the part and can also act. Shocker, I know. Over these past few days I've felt like a broken record chanting "FALSE DICHOTOMY" in these people's directions.
18th-Mar-2011 03:32 pm (UTC)
Wash rinse repeat. Same bullshit responses we got during the whole TLA casting debacle.
23rd-Mar-2011 04:42 am (UTC)
How foolish it is to think that acting ability is a given when one searches for... actors... for a... movie...
18th-Mar-2011 03:16 pm (UTC)
I know everybody's screaming "Harry Potter! Twilight!" with this franchise, but the farther we get into the process, it just seems to be screaming back "Eragon! Percy Jackson! A Series of Unfortunate Events!"

Also, EW, I didn't know you had it in you.
18th-Mar-2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
Amen. I can't see many teens or parents/child movie groups enjoying watching children kill each other and starve on screen.

In books, it's a lot less graphic, but on screen....yeah.....not as easy.
18th-Mar-2011 03:33 pm (UTC)
Not to mention how hyperbolic and desperate it is to compare Hunger Games to Harry Potter, or to say that the name "Katniss Everdeen" is 'just as recognized' as Harry. Bitches please.
18th-Mar-2011 08:32 pm (UTC)
I like this article. I'm glad the media isn't giving them a free pass.
18th-Mar-2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
At least there's a speck of silver in the lining of this dark-cloud sandwich. At least the interviewer brought up the issue, although very gingerly--"Katniss is described as being olive-skinned, dark-haired, possibly biracial."

Still, faded_facade is right--the language of the casting call makes it obvious. From the first the studio people were proceeding under the assumption that Katniss could be/ "should" be Caucasian.

I think tryxkittie is right, too. Who's to say if Collins thought through all the ramifications of that casting?

Directors always talk about working with the author and okaying things with the author. But I wonder how much say she really has (or thinks she has). For a writer who's written books for years without causing much stir, it must be all too easy to get carried away with the sudden blaze of attention. Especially when surrounded by people hungry for a new movie franchise.

This is another reason why I love Ursula K. LeGuin so much. She thoroughly understands the issues her stories address, and has firmly disagreed with race-bent casting of her works in the past.
I wonder if that's why she's been excluded from participating on the last few adaptations.
18th-Mar-2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
Jen will have dark hair in the role, but that’s something movies can easily achieve. [Laughs] I promise all the avid fans of The Hunger Games that we can easily deal with Jennifer’s hair color.

Fuck you, too.
(Deleted comment)
18th-Mar-2011 09:14 pm (UTC)
Well, props to EW at least.
19th-Mar-2011 03:30 am (UTC)
I've gotta say, I'm really really disappointed by this.

When I read the book, the decription of Katniss and the general handling of people from Appalachia really struck me. It was better than what I'd seen in some books by actual Appalachian authors. And since I'm both Melungeon (admittedly, only part and it's not an easy to define heritage anyway) and from Appalachia, it's something I care about a lot and thought was really cool to see represented in a book.

Now I'm wondering if the author even intended for Katniss to be Melungeon at all, if she's okay with casting something who is obviously not. It's really disappointing.

Sigh. This shouldn't surprise me at all, should it? It's not like anyone who isn't Melungeon even knows what the word means.
20th-Mar-2011 12:00 am (UTC)
They would have had she been cast as such.

But the more ignorant the masses remain, the easier it is to sell things to them (so the media thinks) and it's in their best interests (they think) to keep them that way.

The sad part is I think that the more the media exposes the masses to diversity the easier it becomes to sell them on other things, beyond white protag.

So, in that way diversity would actually help their bottom line in the long run, not hurt it.
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