Alright, here Tumblr, it’s my turn to wank about The Hunger Games after having just read the whole first book yesterday.If you haven’t read it already, expect spoilers, or for some things not to make sense to you.
I’m pretty upset about the characters Rue and Thresh. No, I’m not one of the assholes from Twitter with panties all in a twist over the fact that they are being played by black actors. Of course they are being played by black actors - the characters are black in the book, being described as having “dark brown skin” and “dark thick hair.”
I’m upset because Rue and Thresh, the only characters in the The Hunger Games who are explicitly described as dark-skinned people, are textbook examples of the Magical Negro trope. Click the link for a brief explanation of what that means if you aren’t familiar with the racist archetype.
First of all, let’s take a look at Rue and the role she plays in THG. She is a slight, pre-teen girl whose strengths are tree-climbing, stealth, and knowledge of edible and medicinal plants. Every single one of her strengths and character traits is tailored to advance Katniss through the plot.
Aside from the initial mentions establishing her existence and foreshadowing her plot importance, Rue’s first true appearance in THG comes at the exact moment that Katniss is stuck in a tree surrounded by enemies, and she only survives the encounter thanks to Rue’s observation about the genetically-altered wasps’ nest above.
A few tracker jacker stings and two-days of venom-induced nightmares later, Katniss encounters Rue again. Rue is designed to be the only character who could possibly sneak up on Katniss and tug at her heart strings. Rue reminds Katniss of her sister Prim, who Katniss loves so much that she volunteered for the Hunger Games in her stead and even accidentally refers to Rue as Prim in her thoughts. Rue also happens to show up equipped the exact medicinal knowledge that Katniss needs to heal the stings, right then and there. These herbs end up serving Katniss’s ends well after Rue is dead.
Another major advancement for Katniss was her destruction of the Career pack’s supply camp, which was made possible only by Rue’s ability to travel quickly and stealthily through the pine forest while lighting the distraction fires. Oh yeah, and the fact that Rue had been spying on their camp and had some invaluable intel to offer on the matter. It also just so happens that Rue knows exactly how to use the one item Katniss is carrying that Katniss doesn’t know how to use: the night-vision glasses.
Basically, one is hard press to name a single thing about Rue that isn’t one-mindedly engineered to advance Katniss. Even her seemingly unique love for music simply harkens back to Katniss’s relationship with her deceased father. Even the little girl’s shy but eager personality just seems tacked on to give us a reason to be sad when she is inevitably killed off.
The way hear death was handled was perhaps the most upsetting thing to me about her treatment: she was killed the instant the plot no longer needed her, not a moment later. To be fair, every character died the moment the plot didn’t need them anymore; however, only Rue’s death was used to develop Katniss’s character. Every other death comes off as incidental.
Which brings me to Thresh, the boy from the same district as Rue. After his introduction, we don’t see hide nor hair of him for practically the whole book until he becomes necessary as a plot device to save Katniss. He literally lunges out of the woods the moment Katniss becomes incapable of saving her own life from Clove, successfully annihilates her assailant, and only stops short of killing Katniss as well because Rue. I don’t even feel like I have to finish that sentence. It is simply because Rue. Next time we hear mention of Thresh, he’s on the body count.
I would also like to point out that the only explicitly dark-skinned characters are from the farming district where whipping is the primary form of punishment, a fact that brings Katniss momentary pause to contemplate her relative good-fortune in relation to these people (which smacks of white guilt or something like it).
I’m bad at writing conclusions, but this is Tumblr, not the academy, so whatever. That is basically what I read, and it super bums me out.
Is the impact of the Magical Negro stereotype mitigated if Katniss is read as biracial or as a woman of color? Would the fixation on the races of the actors or on the characters have been lessened if The Hunger Games had more diversity in its main characters as a whole? Do you think Suzanne Collins was aware of the Magical Negro stereotype—or the implications of a character of color dying to drive a white character’s story forward—as she wrote these scenes in The Hunger Games?