Reading While Brown: Hunger Games

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

by Tavae Samuelu

I blame my roommate. She started reading them. I had never seen her read a book before—at least not so quickly. I mocked her endlessly, reminded her that it was intended for people half her age, scoffed at her tears when her favorite character died, and then I read it. I read the second book, too, and the third one after that. I was hooked. My name is Tavae, and I am a Hunger Games fanatic #TeamGale.

I’m one of those nerds who says pretentious things like, “I read that book before it was a movie.” In this time of Twilight, where the Harry Potter generation has a void to fill, a Hunger Games movie franchise was inevitable. When the casting came out, I wasn’t surprised. I know better than to expect Hollywood to recreate the brilliance that occurs in my head when I read a book. I make a point of reading about people of color. Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins didn’t name race, so I named it for her. I imagined lead characters who were brown and being oppressed by garish rich white men who were channeling Oompa Loompas.

There has been an influx of (social) media coverage this week on the HG fans that tweeted their overtly racist complaints about the casting. I highly doubt any of those people are from Oakland, and they definitely weren’t watching the movie with me at Jack London Square on Sunday. The film was good, but the audience was better. Like most Sundays that I spend at the movies, I was surrounded by people of color. Sunday is a special day at the Regal Jack London Stadium 9. It’s the day when the astronomical ticket prices are reduced to $5. As I watched the movie with a theater full of strangers who appreciate discounts as much as I do, I noted their distinctly marked reaction to the fates of the black characters. *spoiler alert* When the adorable young Black girl named Rue was killed and then covered in flowers during a makeshift funeral, there was a deep collective sniffle. When Thresh, a Black man, was murdered, there was a thunderous communal groan. At the risk of stating the obvious, there are people (i.e., decent human beings) who feel truly sad and outraged about the violent deaths of Black characters and Black people.

Collins wrote about a dystopia that is set hundreds of years in the future in a post apocalyptic world. However, for many low-income people of color, this dystopia is their present reality. Being poor and hungry and dying too soon is a nonfiction story for too many people. To be able to call this science fiction or fantasy is a privilege.