Katniss Evergreen, the heroine of The Hunger Games Trilogy, is sixteen with long black hair, olive skin and grey eyes. Well, Jennifer Lawrence has long hair. Frankly, I’m disappointed. Given the author’s description of the character, this was a great opportunity for a break out actress who doesn’t look quite so white. Even though I can think of good reasons why I shouldn’t be annoyed, I still am.
Reason #1: It goes without saying that the most important attribute for the actress who plays Katniss is the ability to perform the role well. Jennifer Lawrence did a fine job in Winter’s Bone.
Reason #2: While Katniss’ physical appearance in the story was important, it is about how she was styled, not as much about her physical attributes. I had to stop and think about how I imagined her when the rumors of whitewashing the character first started flying a few months ago. What I recalled had more to do with her clothes and decorations and less to do with her skin color.
So why should it matter? Because whitewashing erases people of color. It is a form of racism that, intentional or not, is subtly effective and needs to be called out. There is a missed opportunity here, the chance to have a strong female character who is a teenage girl of color. That saddens me.
I won’t be boycotting the movie, in fact I’m sure I’ll see it multiple times with my daughter. But as I’m watching it, I hope I’ll remember Katniss had dark hair and olive skin.