All of our favorite YA book-to-movie heroines have a very similar look. They are all very, very….white. A large percentage of them have brown hair, too! When will we have a leading lady that isn’t Caucasian? The only one that even goes a little bit darker than pasty white is Katniss of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and she is played by Jennifer Lawrence. That olive tone that is described in the books is accomplished on the blonde and pale actress using movie magic. Makeup! Also, when the casting call went out for Katniss Everdeen, they specified that she had to be Caucasian.
While “Caucasian” does include a lot of groups you may not expect, in a Hollywood casting call, they mean white. This caused an outcry of controversy. “She’s olive toned with black hair, she doesn’t have to be Caucasian!” shouted the public. “Middle-Eastern, Asian, and Native-American women can fit her description perfectly too!” Nobody is saying that Jennifer Lawrence isn’t an absolutely amazing actress (she absolutely nailed the part and is an Oscar-winner for Silver Linings Playbook) but the girls below fit her description, and maybe could have done her justice if given the chance. They didn’t even get to walk into the audition room because Hollywood considers Caucasian “default” for their heroines. This isn’t blaming the talented stars of these franchises, they’ve gotten amazing opportunities and have gone far with them. Does Hollywood think a film fronted with a woman of color, will fail? Or is it just that white authors are writing from the perspective of a white protagonist since that’s what they know?
Representing only one teeny tiny fraction of the girls in the world is not only unrealistic, it’s just sad. I mean, in my opinion every girl should have a YA heroine they can look at and say, “She looks like me!” With the current onslaught of YA book to movie adaptations, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that they could be able to. But, they can’t.
Clary, Bella, Lena, Julie, Katniss, Wanda, Tris…they could all be sisters! Almost all of our favorite blockbuster films based on books have a heroine who is described as white. However, many descriptions that are “on the line” (like Katniss) are almost always bent to the Caucasian side for their film adaptations. What if, one day, a leading character was cast in a different race than they were described? Bent the other way than Hollywood normally sways. Would this make you upset? What if we saw an Asian or Middle-Eastern leading lady who was described as white? It happens all the time with supporting characters, studios don’t want to entirely white-wash their movies, so they cast people of color in supporting roles to avert criticisms.
When Amandla Stenberg was cast in the role of Rue in The Hunger Games, who is described as having dark hair, skin, and eyes, there was a huge public shnafoo about it. The actress talked her confusion with Rookie Magazine, saying, “It was pretty shocking to see some of the articles that compiled the tweets I received. I remember calling my friend Jackie Emerson and telling her I wouldn’t understand all of the drama even if Rue wasn’t supposed to be black.”
She’s totally right. Even if the character wasn’t described as black (and she was), would it really be that big of a deal? I don’t think it would be, at all. Amandla is gorgeous, and an amazing actress! I would have loved to see her in the part even if Rue had been described as blonde and blue-eyed. Films are never carbon copies of their source material, after all.
“If you’re a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, if you’re a person of size, a person of intelligence, a person of integrity, then you’re considered a minority in this world. And it’s going to be really hard to find messages of self-love and support anywhere. It’s all about how you have to look a certain way or else you’re worthless. For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution and our revolution is long overdue.” - Margaret Cho