I’m sure that by now many of you are familiar with the recent wave of racism surrounding Hunger Games, and a cross-section of fans who were outraged that some characters from the book were portrayed by black actors Dayo Okeniyi (left) and Amandla Stenberg (right). If you’re not familiar with what has been going, please take a moment to read about. The New Yorker has a solid piece that pretty much explains it all. To be honest, I’ve been hesitant to weigh in on the subject, as I feel like I’ve been plenty vocal in multiple outlets about issues of race and gender in not just Young Adult literature, but in popular culture as well for a long time. But the more I read about this disturbing nonsense as it relates to Hunger Games, the more infuriated I become. And at this point, I’m especially agitated with one person in particular, Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins.
To the best of my knowledge, Collins has yet to publicly address this storm of racism surrounding her book and its cinematic adaptation. Of course, she’s in no way obligated to do so, but that doesn’t excuse her from not doing so (but even 13 year old Amandla Stenberg who plays Rue in the film has said something). Collins is an author who has been graced with a best-selling series that has now spawned a huge blockbuster film, and in the wake of all this success, some of her fans have exposed themselves as either being racist or having racist notions. By not condemning these fans and the hateful things they have said—particularly relating to the characters of Rue and Thresh—Collins is by default accepting the prejudice and racism that has been spewed and, in fact, encouraging it. And just so there is no confusion, I am not saying that Collins herself is a racist, but the fact that at this point in the game she has not been very vocal in taking to task the racism of a select group of her fans is, through her own silence, an acceptance of their behavior.
As a writer, Collins made a decision to describe the characters of Rue and Thresh as having dark skin, and to her credit, she brought a miniscule amount of diversity not only to the universe she created, but to the literary world of Young Adult fiction. Anyone who reads contemporary YA fiction knows that the market is not awash in diversity, and so again, I give credit to Collins where credit is due. But if you are a writer who is going to go out of your way to bring diversity into the literary world, then you must stand by that act of desegregation (and let’s face it, YA fiction is to a large extent a segregated world populated primarily by white heroes). As near as I can tell, Collins has not backed up her creative actions with the moral stand of denouncing the racist attitudes of some of her readers. This is both frustrating and disappointing, as Collins is face with the rarest of opportunities, she is a writer with an audience that is actually interested in what she has to say. Unfortunately, she is not saying anything.