Hollywood Whitewashing (Yes, It Really Hurts)

I hope it’s no surprise that whitewashing has been an accepted convention in Hollywood since the beginning. The history of blackface and yellowface has been well-documented, but with recent reminders like The Last Airbender, Drive, and the highly-anticipated Hunger Games, it seems necessary to re-examine the inequality in casting that people of color have all but come to expect from media.

"The Last Airbender"

"No, no, keep the bad guys brown. I don't know, it just makes more sense that way, right?"

Lately, whenever roles written for people of color are filled by white actors, there is an outcry, subsequently countered by a surprisingly large group of people who are desperate to deny the systemic racism of Hollywood: the kinds of people who will use words like “post-racial” while defending a white actor being given a role meant for a person of color. Let’s also not forget those who are vocally upset when the tables are turned and a person of color is given a role traditionally played as white. (Most recently, Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor, Angel Coulby as Guinevere in Merlin, and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in the upcoming Elementary). But, if there really isn’t a institution of racism in Hollywood and we’re somehow beyond race as a country, why are people of color still deemed insufficient to tell our own stories?

When casting decisions for The Hunger Games were released, an online outcry arose over Jennifer Lawrence being cast as Katniss Everdeen, who is generally accepted by readers to be a woman of color, described in the books as having olive skin and dark hair. The one counter-argument that appeared everywhere was that she was the best actress for the role. She could just be made up to appear darker, you know? “Haven’t you ever heard of bronzer?” some would scoff. Similarly, the character of Irene in Drive was originally written for a Latina woman, but was cast with a white actress, because Carey Mulligan looked more to the director like the type of woman who needed to be “protected”. It seems that for people of color, and especially women of color, calling for a particular race or ethnicity in a script is only a suggestion, unless it is white. This kind of racebending, which prioritizes a whiter shade of beige, is a fairly common occurrence in Hollywood films. Where does that leave actors and actresses of color, when even opportunities that are expressly written for them are offered first to their white colleagues?

Christina Hendricks in "Drive"

"Don't get any ideas, there's only room for one vulnerable white girl in this movie."

When we’re constantly pushed to the edge, not being able to represent ourselves or tell our own stories, the mainstream media narrative becomes an overwhelmingly white one. We speak out against it because we must; because not doing so means standing idly by while we are gradually written out of the nation’s consciousness. It’s that very real fear and the pain it brings, that make whitewashing and racebending so personal to people of color, something it seems many people fail to comprehend. Much has changed since the infamous Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (part of the promos for the movie actually included the mysterious introduction and buildup of a strange Japanese actor who was later revealed to be, simply, Mickey Rooney in yellowface, in case you were wondering if that whole thing could have been more racist) and yet so much has stayed the same.

"Ok let's see... white. White. White, white, white, aaaand white!"

With The Hunger Games being released tomorrow, I’m caught between positive and negative feelings, which I’m sure are familiar to other people of color. The positive side is that I enjoyed the books, I want to see the movie, and I certainly hope all the actors are wonderful in it. Yet, I’m also discouraged by what looks like a sea of white faces, where I had expected to see brown ones. If that disappointment affects me – an adult who has a firm grasp on her identity and self-confidence – to such a degree that I question whether I will want to see the movie in theaters in the first place, how might it affect children of color? And yet, perhaps as a result of our false system of meritocracy, with its ever-popular “bootstraps” theory, it seems that society believes that people of color are the ones who should bear responsibility for this inequality. After all, if they really were the “best for the role,” they would have gotten it, right?

So, my question to the post-racial brigade is, if it’s true that not all of these incidents are examples of systemic and institutionalized racism within Hollywood, where do we draw the “racist” line? How can people of color possibly separate the “real” racism from “Caucasian preferred” when both are rooted in tradition that has always upheld whiteness, and both happen to us on a regular basis? If we have been getting shafted since the very birth of cinema (and we have), and have continued to take the same punishment to this day, what reason do we have to believe that things are somehow different now? Do you really expect us to compartmentalize our lives to such an extreme degree, just to be less of a nuisance to the system that oppresses us?

I’ll wait.

Note: Since this post, an additional follow-up has been written by one of our editors to expand on the discussion.

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76 Responses to Hollywood Whitewashing (Yes, It Really Hurts)

  1. Pingback: Hollywood Whitewashing (Yes, It Really Hurts) | CijiTheGeek

  2. Raoulinho says:


    First of all thank you for having wrote this, I’ve always thought it was in France & other European countries were this types of things were happening, however here you brought light to my brain… I’ve always taught myself why is the movie “The Mommy” pharaoh wasn’t black? Because we now know that Imhotep was, in all the movie about world war II you see American soldiers, British & all those who have helped except the Arabs & black African who were in the frontline too, not even for a second… Many times some historian tried to rewrite history & write us out, I just came to realize that it hasn’t changed & it seems like it won’t change. A white colleague asked me once, why do you black guys only hang out with other black guys & I know you’re not all originally from the same African country. Well, the answer was very simple but I refused to answer the question, when you see the sunshine everyday & refuse to recognize then there’s very little I can do for you it, people tend to say we complain too much… It’s like slapping a five years old & don’t expecting him to cry.

  3. Akvavit says:

    About the Drive casting, Latina isn’t exactly a race. In Latin America you will find many people who are white. It just bugs me when people fail to realize that. But overall good post and I agree.

    • Alice Marie says:

      Be that as it may, Carey Mulligan is a white British woman. The role was intended for a Latin (more than likely Mexican) woman. Carey sought out the director, sought out this role, and won out over the WOC who auditioned, because who could resist a sweet little white girl.

      tl;dr: K, but u rong do.

    • zira says:

      No, technically Latin@s are not a race, but as a group they’re marginalized and oppressed in the same ways that other non-European whites are, at least in the U.S., so. It’s a trivial point.

      • Chimalpahin says:

        Well msot so called “Latinos” are not Spaniards, they are Spanish speaking American Indians, the same bum rap since 1492.

        Either way more European idols to watch

    • chochoro says:

      i agree with you to some extent. yes there are white people in latin america but not a majority of them are white. there are a lot of black and indigenous as well but many are mixed

      • creeperonthewall says:

        I am white and I am part brazilian which is latin@. There is racism still very apparent in those countries as well. Latin@ is not a race.

        • lurker says:

          Technically, you are not Latina. Latino/a is an alternative to Hispanic (which refers to people from countries colonized by Spain) for people in the US who don’t think being colonized by Spain should be their identity. Since Brazil was colonized by Portugal you’re not Hispanic, hence not Latina.

          • Elyse says:

            Actually, Latino/a is not just an alternative to Hispanic, it’s a different identifier altogether. Latino/a refers to people who speak a romance language (derived from Latin) or hail from Latin America. The term “Hispanic” was used to unify Spanish-speaking peoples for the census in the US, it indicates a connection to the Spanish language or culture but does not account for country of origin. So, technically, Brazilians are neither Latino/a nor Hispanic, but many still identify as such.

            • Chimalpahin says:

              Either way both are colonial terms and are inherently problematic, I guess Spanish speakers is too long, hispanophone (?)

          • Maki P says:

            Brazilians are our adopted brothers and sisters. And going a bit back they’re our cousins, since both Spain and Portugal had the same mommy (the Holy Roman Empire)

  4. William says:

    And you hit the nail on the head. When you have white actors playing characters of color (in addition to those you mentioned, The Dark Knight Rises has Tom Hardy playing Bane, who is of Latino descent in the comics, and Marion Cotillard as Talia al Ghul, who is of mixed Chinese and Arabic descent) it comes down to the idea that the best actor was chosen for the job.

    But when you dare do something like casting black people as Nick Fury or Heimdall or have an Asian American playing Watson, it becomes some sort of indefensible PC agenda that must be pointed out and attacked. Because after all, political correctness has no place in the media, don’t you kow?

    • Jennifer says:

      Just wanted to say as a big Holmes fan, I think the backlash about Lucy Liu was to do more with the fact that she was playing a FEMALE Watson, a change to Holmes continuum that would undoubtedly change the famous dynamic between the detective and the doctor, not because she was Asian. That was the only source of disappointment I got from the casting at least, I’m sorry if there were really idiots who were complaining about the fact that she was Asian American.

      • Tanya says:

        Hey Jennifer, I noticed that comment echoed across a few reblogs over on Tumblr. I think it’s justified for people to feel a little bit nervous and protective when their favorite character is represented in a way drastically different from the familiar. I still have to disagree with the fact that a woman playing Watson implies that the dynamic would be ruined, however. It’s actually ALL in the hands of the writers. If the writers create a story based on Watson’s characteristics (level headed but with an adventurous streak, compassionate, much sharper than is sometimes given credit for, haunted and complicated, a true and fearless friend) the dynamic shouldn’t change too much.

        Of course, maybe I’m overly optimistic.

  5. Tanya says:

    I’m not on the bandwagon with The Hunger Games as much as some; for me the vital importance of the post is in its broader message about the hurtful trends in Hollywood (and beyond). After the film has had its run and another franchise sweeps the nation, the racism won’t just go away all of a sudden. It’ll rear itself in yet another casting decision, another slight. William’s comment above, pointing out the casting choices in The Dark Knight Rises is yet another example that’s so jarring and upsetting (and spot on to reinforce your point further). I really appreciate you for writing this post and expressing a frustration that goes beyond sci-fi, fantasy, YA lit and people’s headcanon, but speaks to a systematic way of thinking about talent and viewing stories.

  6. Carlos says:

    What does person of color mean to you? I’m Hispanic but I’m mistaken for white all the time. Do I count? What about the thousands of other Hispanics who look whiter than me? Are they people of color? In all reality, olive skin and straight black hair can mean any race, including white. I agree that whitewashing happens in Hollywood all the time, but this not a good example of it. If the author intended for Katniss to be of a race other than white, don’t you think she would have clearly described her as such? In my mind she is written that way because racial distinction probably don’t exist in Panem and everyone is mixed race or ethnicity. Katniss can be of any race and we read into it what we like. Why get angry because a casting director saw Katniss differently than you did? It doesn’t mean there was intentional disregard of a character’s race.

    • Tihmily says:

      Hi Carlos, it seems that you can pass for white – white passing – and that is also just as hurtful to actors and actresses of Colour when POC, who are white passing, get chosen over them.

    • Aeris says:

      I agree heartily with the overall message and points in this essay, but I agree with you that Katniss was a poorly chosen example. My family is full of olive-skinned Italians because my grandparents came from southern Italy, where people more typically have dark brown/black hair and darker skin (blonde and light-skinned Italians typically come from northern Italy). My father and his father are dark-skinned (perma-tan year round) but still white and of German descent. I think of olive-skinned as meaning darker white, particularly in this case where Katniss shares both parents with her blonde little sister and lives in future-Appalachia.

      Now what I do think is important to keep in mind is that Katniss could just have easily have been mixed race or non-white Mediterranean or even possibly Latina, and Hollywood missed an opportunity to have a non-white actress starring in this movie. Because of that I understand people being upset at the missed opportunity, even though I disagree that Katniss is “generally accepted by readers to be a woman of color.”

      What bothered me was how many people got upset when Rue was cast as black when she was clearly black in the book. I even got the impression that District 11 might be completely black (and that there was the possibility that Panem was racially segregated) but apparently some people missed that both District 11 tributes were black.

      • mairalyn says:

        I agree–I was horrified at how many people were upset about Rue’s casting! She was clearly described in the book, and there was no doubt she was black.

        As for Katniss, well, one of my best friends in school was olive-skinned, but she had blonde hair and green eyes, and her little sister was olive with black hair and black eyes, and they had the same parents. Their younger sister was light skinned with brown hair and hazel eyes. Other than differences in skin/ hair/eye color, they were almost identical; one parent had Native American heritage and the other was of European descent.

        I’m of mixed European and Native American ancestry myself, and I have dark hair and eyes, but my skin is whiter than the whitest make-up you can find. My dad, who is totally European, has olive skin. Go figure!

        Since Prim is blonde and blue-eyed, like their mother, I think Katniss is probably of mixed descent.

        I also agree with posters talking about the fact that there is a problem with Hollywood whitewashing in general, which is deplorable–but is also better evidenced by the people who were complaining about Rue being portrayed by a black actress. (And by the way, she was AWESOME as Rue!) I would love to see more roles filled by beautiful and talented women of all backgrounds, races, shapes, sizes, and ages.

        • The Winter Rose says:

          Yeah I pretty much agree with these two posts here. I mean, I don’t think Katniss was “white-washed”. Katniss was described as having olive skin, grey eyes and dark hair. Prim is described as being fair skinned and blonde. They have the same parents. Olive skin does not automatically equal bi-racial. For example, my brother and I pretty much have the exact same coloration as Katniss and Prim – my brother has our mother’s more Mediterranean coloration of dark hair, olive skin and hazel eyes. I, however, have our father’s Prussian coloration of blonde hair, pale skin and blue eyes. It happens.

          I’m honestly more upset about this horrible backlash against the casting of Rue that people had, which is just awful. I don’t get what people are thinking. Rue is clearly described in the book as being black. But the most hurtful thing about the entire thing is that some of those tweets blatantly were saying that because she was black her death was less meaningful. Now THAT is horrible and those people should be ashamed.

  7. Bekah says:

    Funny. I read Katniss to be of mixed race, like so many of us are…but with at least a good chunk of Caucasian – because her full-sister Primrose clearly, in the book, has blond hair, which while not unheard-of in non-Caucasian races is at least a great deal less frequent.

    I’m of Scottish/Irish/Native American stock (which arguably is similar to what Katniss and Primrose might be, coming from a coal mining culture that is likely Appalachian in origin), and while I have fair skin and dark hair, there are blondes in my family, and my sister has olive-toned skin very unlike mine. It’s not dark, but the tone is different. I always understood “olive” to be more about tone than degree of darkness or lightness.

    I *do* agree with your assessment of problems of racism in film. I just don’t think this is a good example. By the way, I can’t think of a single character in the film who was clearly “of color” who was a bad-guy type. Not to mention that one of the worst of the worst is symbolized throughout the series with a white rose…

    • are you serious? says:

      You cant be serious? The problem with the movie is that for the first 15 mnutes of the film you are shown that the face of the oppressed, exploited and poor are white faces (the good guys). But as soon as you enter the capitol (the bad guys), the faces of the excessive, entitled and rich are DIVERSE?!?!?! Its like they were ramming people of color down your thoat when they entered the capitol. And the first speaking role for an actor of color is the soldier that pulls Katniss’ family away from her. Then you have the lady sicking the giant pitbulls on Katniss…the only postive actor of color in my eyes was Lenny Kravitz. I am amazed that a director in this day can get away with something so blatant and it saddens me…

      • Bekah says:

        Wow. Yikes. Well – the little girl, Rue, who partners with Katniss, is clearly a person of dark color (as she described in the book – and it was noted that that was common for people from her district); There’s Lenny Kravitz, Cinna, as you mentioned (who is NOT a “bad guy”, as per the whole series…far from it) wasn’t identified by skin tone in the book IIRC, but he’s dark in the movie (which I thought was fantastic…that was the way I’d read him); Thresh (also from Rue’s district, also dark) is kind in the only way he can afford to be when he spares Katniss’s life; and all of the tributes who are cruelest are very white indeed. We saw *one district* up close – Katniss’s – and the majority of the 12 districts are poor. We didn’t see the others except for Rue’s district, which is also not a nice place to live and there’s a large population of people of her color there. It makes at least hypothetical sense that the Capitol would have people of most races PARTIALLY because they’re so focused on beautiful appearances and a wide variety of skin tones and racially diverse features would likely be seen as beautiful. I mean, sheesh, Effie Trinket (such a disgusting person) looks like she’s trying to achieve a hairstyle that would be easier for someone with naturally kinky hair than for someone with average Caucasian hair. And, as I was getting at, President Snow (snow???? how white can you get?) is the worst of the worst in this movie – even more so than he is in the books. The evil white rose. And I am fine with that.

        The characters you cite (the soldier and the pitbull lady) aren’t characters I was considering for the purposes of my statement, primarily because they are nameless minor characters, and I didn’t observe that most of that type of character were of any particular racial makeup. Next time I see it, I will pay more attention to see if people of color are more strongly represented than…colorless?…people when it comes to the nameless bad guys. That wasn’t the impression I got, but perhaps that is a problem in my perception.

        • are you serious? says:


          It just struck me in the moment as i was watching the movie. I had no knowledge of the book or the movie before i saw it. I was amazed at how white the first fifteen minutes of the movie was as i was supposed to understand these folk as being poor and oppressed. I just figured the entire movie would be mostly white. If im watching a movie and the poorest of the poor are all white….. then i’m not going to expect to see many faces of color elsewhere in the movie. I have been conditioned this way by Hollywood. So I totally was shocked to see the first black person speak as being a soldier rushing the heroine’s family away and also when so many colored faces appeared at the capitol. I just knew these things were deliberately done. Hence me running to the internets to get background on the book, and I think my hunch was right. Hollywood just took it there.

          • Bekah says:

            I wonder – I really do just wonder, I’m not making a claim here – if someone wouldn’t have a just argument against making a minority the oppressed, uneducated, uncouth group that Katniss’s district is. Might it just keep perpetuating the idea that people of color cannot be successful, are dirty and downtrodden, and must be seen as lesser by the majority?

            What would be the best way to represent a group that has been misrepresented? I keep seeing it as – not exactly a lose-lose situation, but as one where maybe 75% of the possibilities could be easily interpreted as furthering a damaging view, whether they were meant with good intentions or not.

            One thing that I had in mind as I watched the movie was what was much more clear in the book…the poor, oppressed people aren’t all necessarily good guys. Throughout the series, there are terrible tensions and real problems that rise from not knowing whom one can trust. Without spoiling too much…um…well, there are people with good in their hearts and people with evil in their hearts all up and down the socioeconomic structure of Panem. Just because someone salutes the death of Rue doesn’t mean they’re good, and just because someone claps and smiles at the tributes in the area doesn’t mean they’re bad.

  8. AM says:

    I’m not familiar with most of your examples and I definitely think your overall point is a legitimate one.. But as far as the Hunger Games.. Olive skin and dark hair doesn’t necessarily mean Katniss was intended to be a “woman of color..” Suzanne Collins said that Jennifer Lawrence is perfect for what she pictured for Katniss. I pictured maybe a LITTLE more olive, maybe Italian-looking at most. But, given that the Hunger Games takes place presumably in the future, on the same land as the United States… I think it’s pretty safe to assume that she wouldn’t be some pure white, black or latina woman, but would instead be some sort of mix.

    • Naty says:

      Then filling the film with latino/as would make the most sense, since there are black, white, asian and native Latino/as, in all sorts of great combinations. But that’ll be the day…every hollywood movie is like that screenshot above; a sea of white people’s faces.

      • Alyssa says:

        To be fair to the movie, that “sea of white faces” represents one District of the 13 mentioned in the book. And, as it’s a coal mining district in future North America, most readers have speculated that District 12 would be located in the Appalachians. Which, if we’re going with history, would be a generally “white trash” area.
        That screen shot is not representative of the whole movie by any means. “The Capitol” (center of fashion, ect) is very diverse. Other districts are as well. So please avoid making such broad statements based on one freeze frame.

  9. Tanya says:

    I’m a little surprised (or maybe not) that the main point of rebuttal of the post that has come up is *just* over Katniss, the whole “You’re mostly right except…”

    Granted, the release of the movie is another example that serves as timely inspiration behind the post, and yes the image featured on the Tumblr post is a compelling way to start the conversation, but that’s not the whole point. The message of the post is about the deeper, systematic under-representation in Hollywood; the progress for people of color in the industry being stymied by directors and casting agencies who don’t take advantage of either reading the source material literally (The Last Airbender) or running in a more progressive direction with a character like Katniss. This post doesn’t ride on The Hunger Games as the sole example; in fact, quite the contrary – it’s the fact that there are so many examples, constantly, that have been building up to the pain and frustration that’s echoed by lots of other people, and that The Hunger Games, with perhaps a slightly ambiguous lean to the casting options and not as drastic an example, is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

  10. K.P. says:

    Whitewashing is a sad reality. Accepting it is most healthy. Racism went no where, but got more covert so that peoples claim “it no longer exist”. Personally I like my racism overt where I can see it.
    However, as a fan of the Hunger Games novels, I (young Black woman) never saw Katniss as anything other than white. If the author is white, I assume the character is white. I write Black characters because I’m Black. Even with the “olive skin and dark hair” I still saw white, like Italian complexion, who I’ve often heard described as “olive tones”. Also, her mother and sister are described as blond so…. I don’t know, I never got anything but white from her. I think Jennifer Lawrence was a really good pick, I enjoy her work and her visually. I’m just so surprised that other readers saw her as a WOC. It never crossed my mind.

    • Erin says:

      I agree with you…. blonde sister and mother… unless Katniss was the milkman’s kid, I never saw her as anything but white. I think they could have picked a better example to use for whitewashing. I know it exists… but Hunger games was pretty true to the book in terms of people’s appearances and…. well actually, everything that I’d pictured really.

  11. Ciara says:

    I too thought Katniss was mixed race and was pretty annoyed that a blond girl was cast BUT when i went back to re-read the descriptions it does clearly state that her sister is blond haired and blue eyed and they are full siblings so she couldn’t really be mixed race.

    having said that, it’s not really the point. there is a crap ton of whitewashing in hollywood and anyone living a “post-racial” society is in denial.

    • Andie says:

      Genetics don’t work like that, though. It’s entirely possible for a noticeably multiracial person to have a white-passing sibling. Suzanne Collins made it a point to say that the lower-class districts had many brown-skinned people – Gale and his whole brown family, after all, for whom they cast a sea of white children and a white Australian – and that the wealthier districts had an obsession with changing their skin color to ridiculous shades. Collins has been very thoughtful about the social implications of her novels, and I hardly doubt that her descriptions for the characters’ skin tones were an accident.

      Many people believe that, for better or worse, we’re headed for a decidedly “beige” future where a large minority of people are multiracial; I’m of the opinion that Collins was at least hinting at that future in her novels.

  12. Fire For The People says:

    It’s great to see a post on this! I think that with every big movie adaptation it is important to discuss how casting and Whitewashing work and how white is the ‘default’.

    I am happy to report, however, that while the majority of the cast/extras are indeed White, there is a significant chunk of the picture that is not. The tributes are a relatively diverse bunch (there are even Asian American tributes!) and in the big Capitol scenes, the extras are a ‘more’ mixed up bunch than normal for a Hollywood movie (and they aren’t confined to stereotypical roles either). Still a long way to go and yes, if you grab any screenshot from the movie, there are bound to be more White faces, but the Hunger Games was definitely a step in the right direction and based on the ticket sales so far, hopefully it’ll start to push Hollywood towards a better casting ethic.

    • are you serious? says:

      i took this as a negative more than a positive. I have not fully read the book, but from my understanding race is not mentioned when they enter the capitol city. But somehow the director decides to fill the screen with colored faces. And I dont mean the “ridiculous shades”. The director is clearly trying to paint the face of the bad guys(the entitled and rich) as diverse and the color of the oppressed and poor(the good guys) as white.

      When every other aspect of reality is infused into the book, no matter how awful….. the black district is farmers and cotton pickers….the coal miners are native american… the military is arrogant and violent… yet the RICH and ENTITLED are diverse and the poorest of the poor are white?! I think hollywood simply would like to appease the RICH and ENTITLED who in reality arent diverse and are white and get away with offending minorities who have a history of being oppressed and exploited over this entire globe.

      • Contrary says:

        Isn’t casting the rich and powerful people in the Capitol a choice that runs counter to the traditional roles relegated to people of color? Doesn’t it say something different – that they don’t HAVE to be the poor and downtrodden? In the books, the great majority of the people in the capitol aren’t portrayed as being evil, just as being wealthy and self-absorbed and overlooking the damage that their way of living imposes on people who live in the districts. So I don’t think this particular example falls into the pattern of having the bad guy be dark in both actions and appearance – instead, I see it as an attempt to portray race in a way that is different from the norm.

      • Alyssa says:

        It sounds as though you would be offended either way: the way it is, you think that readers are supposed to feel sorry for the poor white people. If it were reverse, I’m willing to bet you would be angry that the casting put African Americans in a stereotypically downtrodden role. It’s a no-win with you, apparently.

        Not to mention that you haven’t even read the whole series! Good and evil are found in all areas of the fictional Panem- and the most evil characters are actually white. Would it surprise you to know that Rue and Thresh (the black tributes) and Cinna (who has been cast black) are the only ones that come out looking like saints?

  13. Tori says:

    I literally just started reading the books, and never saw Katniss as PoC. Mostly due to the fact that her own family is blonde and fair.

    And, my own family runs the gambit from blonde and fair to dark brunette and olive skin or darker. Olive skinned does not automatically = PoC. Because olive skin is such a mid-range of skintone. Which is why the author probably chose to describe her that way, so a larger number of girls could relate to Katniss.

    Also, the author of this article has clearly not seen the movie, and is judging it on a number of stills released. At least see the movie first, mmmkay?

    • Elyse says:

      Hi Tori,

      First of all, Katniss’ family is not all blonde and fair. Prim is, and the book states that she takes after her mother this way, whereas Katniss more closely resembles her father. This leads me personally to believe that she is at least mixed race.

      Second of all, you’re right, olive skin does not automatically make someone a person of color. However, I never stated in the article that canon!Katniss is a woman of color, merely that that interpretation is one that has enough evidence within the source material to be arguable, and that many fans agree with it. The most common theories as to Katniss’ ethnicity I have heard have been Native American, Hispanic, or South Asian, all of which may be lighter skinned, but are still no less people of color. This is not to say that Katniss must have been played by an actress of these particular ethnicities, but when she is described so ambiguously, why couldn’t she have been? My answer is that Hollywood will always default to white, even when the characters are explicitly written for people of color (as in Drive, and The Last Airbender, and countless other films where white actors take the place of POC).

      Finally, you’re right again, I have not seen the movie. This is because it had not been released when this article was published yesterday, and even now it has only been in theatres for 12 hours. And more importantly, The Hunger Games is only one example here, used to address issues that are pervasive across media, and particularly within mainstream Hollywood.

      • Erin says:

        You say hollywood will automatically default to white/caucasian…. I got the impression she was white from the books. I know more WHITE people with olive skin than of any other race. If she had a pale blonde sister AND mother… I’d have defaulted to white too.

        I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again- it just seems like another excuse to cry racism where there is none.

        The movie was very true to the book in terms of what everyone looked like. Rue, Thresh, Cinna, Porcha and all of district 11…..

        I mean no offense to you, but the hunger games was a TERRIBLE example to use for white-washing. You’re nitpicking over them casting a girl who’s skin may or may not be a shade lighter than what people expected it to be.

        Honestly, I don’t think they could have picked a better person for the part. She’s almost exactly the way I pictured her. My brother and I look exactly like my mom, pastey white with light hair….. my sister resembles my dad with her really dark hair and complexion… she’s still white. If she WAS a POC, her sister would have been too… and would have LOOKED that way. would have had SOME trait of it.

      • Alyssa says:

        I agree with Erin. Of all the examples of whitewashing (and there are a lot), you picked one that a) has little evidence, b) is currently a huge drawing point to argue for any of your readers, and c) takes place in a movie that hadn’t been released when you cited it.

        Overall, the movie was incredibly true to the descriptions in the book and even added “color” where it wasn’t specifically mentioned. That’s the OPPOSITE of whitewashing.

  14. While I think its great that readers thought of Katniss as a POC, it’s a little perplexing. She is described as having dark straight hair, olive skin and grey eyes, a blonde mother and sister and a father whose name was Everdeen. Exactly what color were people thinking of, I wonder.

    I think it speaks to how keen readers of color are to find characters that they can relate to, that Katniss has been touted as a POC. This is a good as we can get? Someone with dark hair and a tan? It’s a little sad.

    There IS whitewashing and it IS harmful, but THG is not a case of whitewashing

  15. Anna Monaghan says:

    last i checked it is called “acting” …meaning you are portraying a character, not yourSELF. may the best actor for the part win, no matter what their color.

    And please tell me how saying “black face and yellow face is racist” but complaining that “Katniss should at least have some bronzer on” are not totally at odds with one another.

    • Tanya says:

      Hi Anna,
      Elyse wasn’t saying that Katniss should have bronzer. She was pointing out that is an example of a comment people make when someone complains about a White actress being cast in the role. They would shrug, and say “Well, she could just have some bronzer.” That’s in the same category, even if you don’t agree with the degree, of blackface and yellowface.

  16. nothing is says:

    Telling a POC that they are part of the problem because of the misconceptions of others is repugnant and harmful. Neither you nor anyone else gets to judge how much ‘color’ is in a POC like Carlos; he is who he is. Him being harmful to the cause of other POC is just your opinion and should not be stated as a fact.

    As for ‘white passing’, I am utterly appalled that you would use such a term. It is racist in origin as well as an incredibly presumptive thing to say to a stranger on the internet. Unless you know Carlos or his situation personally, you should not assume to title him with such a concept.

  17. Mariah says:

    While I agree with some of the examples in this article, i disagree with the one about the Hunger Games.

    You could argue, i suppose, that Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t reflect your personal mental image of Katniss, but on the flip-side you should acknowledge that Lenny Kravitz was cast as Cinna despite no mention of his skin color in the books.

    The casting director could have easily put a very Caucasian male in the role; i suspect, however, they chose him based on his acting ability, not his skin color.

    I would understand the outcry over THG if, say, Rue or Thresh had been played by white actors, because the text explicitly describes them as having dark skin.

    • Aeris says:

      As long as we’re nitpicking over Katniss being possibly white, which I agree she may be and I thought of her as such, I may as well pick nits in the other direction: I don’t recall Cinna’s skin tone being mentioned but I have heard from one or two people on the internet that he was referred to as having dark skin at some point. Several people on other sites have mentioned the gold makeup as their clue that Cinna was probably a darker PoC, because gold contrasts well against black or dark brown skin but generally looks bad or invisible on white skin.

      The issue there is that when Hollywood *is* trying to be more inclusive of actors of color, they typically allow them in for side roles but almost never for main roles (at least outside of Will Smith). You have cases like Heimdall or Joan Watson, and tons of similar casting choices where a potentially white character was played by an actor of color, but you almost never have a non-white lead. PoC are allowed to be in the background, to be supporting characters, even to be the primary sidekick who acts as main character #2, but they are almost never The Main Character. And of that small pool, you are mostly looking at niche-market movies by and for PoC, and movies starring Will Smith.
      It presents this idea that PoC can’t be the people the audience identifies with. Black people are expected to identify with white protagonists but almost never the other way around, and the contrast is even more stark with Asian Americans and Native Americans and Latinos. They honestly seem to think the audience won’t care unless the lead is white, and the worst part is they think that even when they’re adapting incredibly popular works that originally had PoC as leads and white audiences; just look at The Last Airbender and the upcoming Akira movie (which has been moved to America and cast with white leads). It also says to PoC that Hollywood doesn’t care about them; Hollywood wants white asses filling theater seats, because white is the majority so it’s the source of money, and they don’t want to risk alienating that white audience even if they have no good reason to think it’s so risky.

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  19. Tiffany says:

    Suzanne Collins has said MULTIPLE TIMES that her description of Katniss as having ‘olive skin’ in the books was not an indication of race. Her own sister has blonde hair and blue eyes and so does her mother IN THE BOOKS. District 12 is set in present day West Virginia, which in 2010 was 93% Caucasian. But I’m guessing you know more about Katniss than her creator.

    Not to mention the fact that she INSISTED that Rue and Thresh had to be played by African-American actors, and two characters, Portia and Cinna, that had no indication of race in the books are played by African-American actors as well. Plus many of the tributes in the arena are POC or at least look racially ambiguous.

    • Erin says:

      You’re right, that’s what I said too. She HEAVILY implied that Katniss was white. Like I said in my comment… Olive skin is just an implication of a slightly darker complexion. Cinna was actually mentioned in the book as being black I think…. or dark colored. Im going to have to go back and check but I’m pretty sure of it.

      Like I said… this is another excuse to whine about racism.

      • Anonymous Coward says:

        Here’s the thing. It’s very easy for me, and people like me, to read a book and make the background assumption that a character (especially a protagonist) is white, unless it’s explicitly stated to be otherwise. Hell, even if there are blatant indications that a character ISN’T white, I can ignore them – consciously or sub-consciously – and still think of them as white, and find plenty of others who do also. See, for example, the numerous postings by people who thought of Rue as white, and were pissed that she wasn’t cast as white, even though she was quite clearly not white in the books. Know why?

        ‘Cause I’m white.

        Life’s good to me that way. I get to pretend I’m the default, and no one will call me on it; they’ll even defend me when I do it. And if they make a movie out of the books I read, odds are excellent I’ll get to see someone like me – white – play the primary characters. Even if that character was not explicitly stated to be white, even if that character could be a person of colour, they probably won’t be cast with a person of colour in the role. Because of that assumption: if it’s not explicitly stated, they must be white.

        I’m not saying there aren’t reasonable arguments to be made that Katniss is white. But there are just as many reasonable arguments that she isn’t. And even given that – basically a 50/50 chance that she’s white/non-white – we white people still got to see her in the movie as one of us, rather than as a person of colour. And that’s screwed up for so many reasons, not least of which is that there’s damned few people of colour in any main protagonist role, much less women, much less in a blockbuster-level movie. Defaulting to white casting when you don’t have to is lazy and cheap, and is long past the point where it should have stopped.

        Bringing attention to a common problem – borne out of racism and perpetuated by systemic racism and laziness – that should be addressed is not ‘whining.’ But people making excuses to ignore it sure is.

  20. Blagh says:

    JFC, people didn’t complain about the Merlin chick because she isn’t white. They complained because she wasn’t hot and Guinevere is supposed to be super gorgeous.

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  22. Tking says:

    While I agree with you that minorities are under-represented in Hollywood, the fact remains that its a business. Casting white people, unfortunately, draws bigger audiences. And above anything else its about ticket sales and dvd purchases.

    • Tanya says:

      Well, it’s a time for a shift of that reality. It’s been time for a very long while. Every business and industry must have its ethics challenged and questioned. Sitting down and just letting everything roll along because the dollar speaks louder is not the way to progress.

  23. Erin says:

    In the book, Katniss is white. Her mom and sister are blonde. She has olive colored skin, but is white. I know a TON of WHITE people who have olive colored skin, or super pale colored friends who have kids with olive skin. It’s just a slightly darker complexion, that’s all. That could have come from a lot of time out in the sun as well.

    This just seems like another excuse to cry racism. In the book, the “colored” characters were Rue, Senna, and everyone from district 11. But olive colored skin can still be white. If her family was as pale as they were, she was, without a doubt… white. I don’t think they could have found a better actress to play Katniss. She fit the role perfectly.

    • Tanya says:

      Hi Erin,

      I appreciate that you’re a big fan of the book. However, I get the impression that you didn’t read the post carefully, nor did you read the addendum post (it’s linked at the bottom of the post here). You imply that Elyse’s post about the greater trends in Hollywood is nitpicking on The Hunger Games, yet you’ve just gone through and posted four comments that don’t offer anything constructive, nitpicking in separate threads and you condescendingly state that this conversation is just an “excuse” to “cry” and “whine” about racism.

      This is not the kind of attitude we want to foster in this community. Your tone does not indicate an open mind, you are not stating your arguments in a way that’s respectful, and you certainly don’t seem to have any interest in considering the point of view of not just the person who wrote this article but hundreds (if not thousands) of people who agree with her.

      We thank you for coming here, but we ask that you leave your condescending attitude at the door.

    • Marz says:

      Katniss is mixed! It says it the book that Katniss looks like her father while her sister Prim looks like her mother. She says her mother and sister stuck out because they were blond haired blue eyed while most of the district was olive skinned, black haired, gray eyed. The darker colored people were from the poor parts of towns. While the blond haired blue eyed characters such as Kantiss’s mother, Peeta, and Madge(the mayer’s daughter) were from the rich part of the district.

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  25. BamWham says:

    For everyone here, yes, even though the character of Katniss had a caucasian mother and sister, she had a father who was racially ambiguous. She mainly took after her father, who was from the Seam, a group whose physical appearance was described as Olive-Skinned and dark haired(features shared all over the world), and have been through racial mixing for over hundreds of years. The casting call should have been open to everyone, but the casting agency only called for caucasian actresses to apply, even though, again, most of her features came from her father.

    Imagine if a character had a black father and a white mother, but mainly took after the father’s features. Now imagine the casting agency saying only white characters could apply for the role. That’s pretty much sums up what they did to Katniss.

    For two more articles on Hollywood racism, look at these:

  26. Iris says:

    When it comes to the Hunger Games and that screenshot of white faces, in a way I don’t find it that surprising that there’s not a whole lot of diversity. In the Hunger Games, the people of Panem live in enclosed districts, with no travel and no way for new groups of people to come to the districts. Since it had been like that for quite some time, naturally the skin colours wouldn’t be very diverse in the districts. This, is of course better described in the books that in those first 15 minutes of the movie.

    That people are upset that Rue was black (even though she was described as black), I think is not because of the fact that she is black, but because Rue was described a hundred times over as “being as Prim”. As Prim was fair skinned and blond, and I don’t think it’s that surprising that people would think Rue looked like that too.

  27. Nicole says:

    The only reason I was able to let Jennifer Lawrence go was that she actually did resemble Katniss on the UK covers and in nearly everything else; I was more irritated at the casting of Gale. (He’s too big!)

    But the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie, which was an atrocity in every way, had no need to be whitewashed and still just really frustrates me and gah. If a character was white, you wouldn’t cast them as a black person; why do it the other way around!?

  28. Yolanda says:


    Er, I don’t really have a problem with characters of other races being played by white people. However I don’t have a problem with any person of any race playing any character. I just fail to understand why they won’t do it vice versa. Also even though Katniss has dark hair and olive skin I’m pretty sure she’s white because her younger sister is paler in comparison and has very blonde hair. I’m guessing that genetics gave her the dark hair and the environment made her quite tan because since her father’s death, she has had to find food for her family and has had to go hunting regularly to trade and such… just saying.

    • bas says:

      Oh, yes, genetics, clever thought.

    • Marz says:

      Nope I live in a very sunny place and I don’t know any white people with olive skin other than Italians. In my oppinion I think Katniss could have been half Arab. A lot of Arabs have black hair, olive skin, and light colored eyes Indians(India) too.

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  31. Chowdhuryx says:

    I totally agree with this , its really irritating that this still goes on .
    It also annoys me when white people feel its alright as long as the actor is good , but i doubt these white people will feel the same if a well know white character was played by a middle eastern , asian or latino actor/actress .

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