Casting Katniss: My Thoughts (and some links)

I feel like I would be remiss as a book blogger if I didn’t offer some comments on the recent announcement that Jennifer Lawrence will be playing Katniss Everdeen in the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games.

Before I get into details let me stress that these are just my opinions. I’m not overly familiar with Lawrence (or any of the other actresses who were in the running) but the decision is getting enough press and interesting enough that it seemed worth discussing.

The news broke last week when Lionsgate announced that Jennifer Lawrence accepted the role. Lawrence, 20, is most recently known for her Academy Award nominated role in Winter’s Bone. I have heard nothing but good things about her as an actress.

Gary Ross, who will be directing the film, also loves Lawrence for the role. In an interview Ross said casting Lawrence was the easiest casting decision he has ever made. Suzanne Collins, the author of the bestselling trilogy/phenomenon, also sent out a letter to readers saying for her Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss.

With endorsements like that it’s impossible to argue against the decision. But I am still going to share some of my own thoughts.

First, a lot of people are excited about the choice. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Lawrence and am sure she’ll be great although she isn’t the person I imagined Katniss to be (not that anyone would have been–who knows?). Some objections were raised about Lawrence being older than Katniss (who is 16 at the start of the story) but Hollywood historically casts actors and actresses to play younger than they really are.

A bigger issue for a lot of readers is the fact that Jennifer Lawrence is a fair complexioned blonde while Katniss is described repeatedly as dark haired, grey eyed, and olive skinned like most of the people who live in the poorer area of District 12 called “the Seam.”

Does that mean Katniss is bi-racial? Does it mean she’s white? Who knows? In a post-apocalyptic dystopian world like Panem race can mean a lot of different things. Rue, for instance, is supposed to be black (African American I guess but since there is no longer an Africa or an America in The Hunger Games the term seems inaccurate) but I read her–throughout the series–as hispanic or latina. I also completely missed District 12 being located in Appalachia. It happens.

At the end of the day does the story lose its impact or importance based on Katniss being white (or not)? No.

Malina Lo posted about the issue of racial background in novels and the Katniss casting decision which explains all of that much better than I did. (Her comment thread also has an interesting discussion going.)

S. Jae-Jones at Uncreated Conscience also has an insightful post discussing whether Katniss is actually white.

I agree with both that it doesn’t really matter. While I was initially surprised by Lawrence being cast in the role because she just doesn’t look as I imagined Katniss, I’m sure she will be wonderful–how can she not be when Suzanne Collins thinks she is perfect for the role?

That said, it’s interesting to see all of the talk about how Lawrence will look like Katniss once she gets makeup and hair dye. For those of you who have read the books, doesn’t that sound a lot like the styling process Katniss went through for her appearance in the Games?

People have also asked why Katniss’ skin tone matters for a movie when it didn’t really matter for the books. For my part, it always mattered. Katniss being olive skinned was one of the things I internalized immediately about her character, not necessarily because it was important to her racial background but because it was important to her class.

Katniss and Gale look alike. A lot of people from their neighborhood, called The Seam, do look alike with that dark hair and olive skin and those grey eyes. These are the poorest people in District 12. We know from characters like Peeta, the mayor’s daughter Madge, and even Katniss’ own mother (whose family owned an apothecary’s shop because she “married down” to be with Katniss and Prim’s father), that the better off residents of District 12 do not look like this. They are fair skinned and blonde haired.

I’m still confident the movie, and Lawrence, will be great. But the role of race (or maybe just coloring if Katniss is white?) in the books, and the role of styling to Katniss as a tribute and a figurehead, makes an interesting lens through which to look at casting choices for Katniss and the other characters.

But those are my thoughts. What do you, dear readers, think about the choice of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss? Is anyone else slightly worried about Alex Pettyfer playing Peeta? Is that just me?