We’re All Olive

So, I haven’t even finished reading the Hunger Games Trilogy, but I did decide to dress up as Katniss for Halloween, and in the course of this I was exposed to the fact that there’s more than a little consternation about the casting of Katniss, something I hadn’t heard about back when the movie first came out.

Needless to say, if you haven’t read it…

One thing that seems to keep coming up is an argument about what race Katniss is. There are those who are vehemently sure she is white, and those who state that the fact that her skin is described as “olive” indicates that she is clearly “of color” and frankly I’m not sure either of them have any claim to make a definitive stand on the subject.

Olive runs the full spectrum of dark to light. Check the makeup section and you’ll find things from “olive fair” all the way to “deep olive” because it’s not a descriptor of darkness but of the greenish yellow undertone that it has. It’s found in people of various Latin, Asian, African and Mediterranean descents.

That’s the point.

Leaving the racial makeup of the protagonist ambiguous is a common enough tactic in helping the audience invest in them. It’s an unfortunate fact that many people can only truly invest in a character whom they can personally identify with. People of all different races can picture an “olive” person not that dissimilar to themselves.

So the outrage over the supposed whitewashing of Katniss is…. completely understandable. In film we are unable to make her race totally ambiguous and so those whose vision of her was something other than Mediterranean Caucasian, were thrown for a rather unpleasant loop. The same thing happened with Cinna since his skin tone was never addressed and so people generally assumed he too, was similar to their own racial makeup. It’s not whitewashing when the palette is left blank for you to fill in.

You want to see actual racism involved in the telling of this story, and its conversion to film, then you’ll have to look to poor little Rue. Rue is explicitly described as having dark brown skin, dark eyes and dark hair. She can’t be anything other than of African descent, and yet somehow the readers need to have the sympathetic characters similar to their own race caused them to forcibly whitewash her in their mind, and then rebel when the film broke that magic spell and forced them to see her as she was intended. I don’t need to point you to their vitriol. I’m sure you saw it already. If not a quick Google should turn it up.

Now while there may have been some bias in the casting of Katniss I think they ultimately chose the right actress, particularly based on her performance in Winter’s Bone, which also took place in an Appalachian region with a girl looking after her family. Call it typecasting if you will, but she does these roles well.

And in the end, we’re all olive.


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