Lenny Kravitz & White Privilege.

| Friday, May 27, 2011
Today's Tune: Are You Gonna Go My Way

Photo from LaineyGossip
Okay, so could we talk about Lenny Kravitz being cast as Cinna in The Hunger Games and the inevitable white privilege fallout without it being, like, A Thing? Because that would be awesome. I guess my asking if it can't be a thing while bringing up the very thing that makes it A Thing is probably cutting my own feet out from under me, but really.

Most Hunger Games fans have taken this casting choice in stride, citing Kravitz's appearance in the movie Precious, or saying "AWESOME. I totally pictured Cinna as non-Caucasian anyway, because Lord knows a white dude would look WEIRD in gold eyeliner."

But, as these things usually tend to go, Cinna was never specifically indicated as anything other than Caucasian in the books. Thus, many people just assumed he was Caucasian and are apparently put out about the fact that his role has been cast to a non-white actor. Which is crappy.

Some are citing his hair and eye color (brown and green with gold flecks, respectively) as "proof" that Cinna is Caucasian, completely disregarding the fact that these superficial features are not exclusively available to people of European-only decent. It's also possible to get it from the Word of God herself, though to my knowledge no one has tried that yet.

Ultimately, though, I ask this: what does it matter?

It matters because in a majority-privileged society (Caucasian, in America's case), there's a natural inclination to default to white. If an author does not expressly state that a character is not white-skinned, the vast majority of readers will assume they are. This has a lot to do with our culture, a lot to do with unconscious psychology, and a lot to do with the fact that publishing overwhelmingly leans toward publishing and promoting white authors and "white" stories. It's the reason why cover whitewashing happens. Most readers are assumed white. It's assumed white people are the biggest purchasing audience (which may very well be true, I don't know). It's assumed that white buyers will not pick up a book with a non-white person on the cover.

So, Suzanne Collins did not say in her description of Cinna that he was not white. Therefore, he was assumed to be white. I find this duality intriguing, because fans of the books (myself included) made it very clear that they would be REALLY UNHAPPY if Rue and Thresh, who were described as "dark-skinned," were cast as white actors. Yet when a character who was not described by skin tone was cast as a black actor, some people took issue with it.

Personally, I think this casting choice was fabulous, because seriously look at that picture. Cinna incarnate? I THINK SO. But I'm curious about your thoughts, readers. What was your reaction to this casting decision? Why? I would absolutely love it if we could keep discourse civil and free of wankery, though. I am perfectly open to hearing from people who thought Cinna would be more appropriately cast as a different actor so long as the argument is logical. For instance: some people have mentioned that they think Kravitz is a bit old to play Cinna. I think this is fair commentary, as Cinna is described as a "young man" in the books. Not that Kravitz is OLD by any stretch of the imagination, but he's certainly not a 20-30 something anymore.

I'm quite interested in the perception behind assuming everyone is a white default and breaking down that assumption. This is an area of particular interest to me because 1) I am white, and 2) while I consciously try to break down this barrier for myself, I'm also mindful that I cannot fully comprehend the experience of people of color. So I'm curious about any and all reactions. Thoughts?

15 comments:

{ Hektor Karl } at: May 27, 2011 at 6:49 AM said...

I like the casting choice. So do the few people I've talked to about it. I agree that demanding he be cast as Caucasian seems ridiculous.

{ Robyn Lucas } at: May 27, 2011 at 7:09 AM said...

Whitewashing covers just pisses me off, but that's another rant...

Hmmm. I was surprised with this choice. I always imagined someone like Jay Emmanuel (from America's Next Top Model).

I aslo pictured Katniss as being hispanic, not white from the books, but I think the casting choice they made was fine.

{ cookie } at: May 27, 2011 at 8:07 AM said...

I think Lenny was a great choice. But Robyn mentioned jay Emmanuel, and he would have been a great choice too...

{ Hektor Karl } at: May 27, 2011 at 8:15 AM said...

*never heard of Jay Emmanuel*

Now creeping into the corner where the uncool people hang out...

{ Old Kitty } at: May 27, 2011 at 8:27 AM said...

I'm with the uncool people too but I have heard of Lenny Kravitz and I hope he proves all his critics wrong!! Go Lenny!! Take care
x

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: May 27, 2011 at 8:49 AM said...

LOL, Hektor and Old Kitty, you can Google "Mister Jay" to see pictures ;) He might've been an interesting choice, as well. I could see it.

Personally, I think Kravitz has amazing style and sexiness, which were my Cinna requirements, so I'm good. Heh.

{ aspiring_x } at: May 27, 2011 at 9:16 AM said...

ohman! i'm excited about this casting, but i always try to keep an open mind about castings, because they never go how i expect. i'm not so familiar with kravitz, but everytime i see him he looks TOTALLY stylish, but also- he seems to have that kind of stoic reservedness that i imagined when i read cinna. now, i'm very familiar with jay emmauel, because i LOVE america's next top model (stop judging me!). and while his look would have been very cool, i think he seems way too warm of a person to embody the withdrawn toughness that i imagined when i read thg trilogy.... however, that's just how i imagined cinna, and i'm not sure how accurate to the book that is! :)

{ thebloodfiend } at: May 27, 2011 at 9:20 AM said...

I always imagined Aaron Yoo as Cinna, but I think Lenny Kravitz can do a good job. That picture you put up was perfect.

{ aspiring_x } at: May 27, 2011 at 9:22 AM said...

oh! and also, i imagined cinna's face to resemble that of an egyptian pharaoh when i read... sort of like a sarcophagus (forgive my spelling, please) come to life... so... i wonder if that's weird...

{ Matthew MacNish } at: May 27, 2011 at 10:15 AM said...

Not that it matters that much, but I'd always pictured Cinna as at least slightly Latin. I didn't realize Kravitz was in Precious, either.

{ Margo Lerwill } at: May 27, 2011 at 10:28 AM said...

I *ahem* haven't read Hunger Games, but I really like it when a novel-based-movie comes out and someone unexpected gets cast. And only then do people realize the author *didn't* say the character had red hair or was tall or was white (etc). It's kind a nice moment of dissonance, facing your own assumptions and laughing at them.

{ Ursula Kerr } at: May 27, 2011 at 12:19 PM said...

As with thebloodfiend, I pictured Cinna as someone of Asian background, but I was personally delighted when I heard Lenny was cast. He's perfect! Oh, and the people have issues that he's black being cast in a non-race-specific-role? Same people who took issue with Jennifer Lawrence being cast instead of someone Italian. Double standard much?

{ Magan } at: May 27, 2011 at 5:59 PM said...

I didn't really think of this from a white washing standpoint, but now I totally see it. Very good points. Of course, Mr. Jay from America's Next Top Model will ALWAYS be my Cinna.

{ Jen } at: May 29, 2011 at 8:41 PM said...

I agree with you guys that Mister Jay would have been perfect, but Lenny Kravitz is an excellent choice - stylish, sexy and overloaded with cool! I haven't seen Precious so I didn't realise he could act.

Thanks for the link on cover whitewashing. That's quite amazing, and quite sad as well.

{ Cat } at: July 20, 2011 at 11:21 PM said...

I guess casting is always controversial, because people have such a strong idea of how characters look in their heads. But it's interesting when that collides with assumptions about race as well.

And yeah, wouldn't have thought of it before, but looking at that picture I think Lenny Kravitz could be a great Cinna.

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