Race, Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Mockingjay Part I

I finished writing Book I of Mark of the Pterren today, and it felt like such a HUGE win — because I was madly scribbling the last scene while getting my oil changed at Jiffy Lube here in Durango this afternoon, and a commercial came on the TV for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I.

I didn’t realize the commercial was for Mockingjay, I just heard this mega-emotional-epic trailer music playing, and I was busy writing, and then I thought, oh man, this music is a bit much for a commercial, isn’t it? I mean really. It was so over the top. I was like, what is with this super-sapster-Nicholas-Sparks-esque trailer music?

Then I looked up and realized ohhhhhh — this is for Mockingjay!!!

I hadn’t seen a commercial for Mockingjay before. At the end of the trailer, the opening date of the movie flashed on the screen: November 21, 2014 — and I was like WHOA that’s TODAY!! Holy cow!!

Before I start making comments about movies, let me just say I love The Hunger Games trilogy. Because who doesn’t love The Hunger Games trilogy?

I just googled this question, and it turns out there is only one living creature on earth who does not love the books, and that is a leopard seal who never learned how to read. But I don’t even think his opinion should matter because he never learned how to read. That leopard seal needs to go to an adult literacy class, pronto.

So aside from one illiterate leopard seal in the southern ocean, everyone esle in the world loves The Hunger Games.

However. While many people love the movies, I do not. I only saw the first film, which I found so boring I think I fell asleep for part of it, my husband definitely fell asleep during several parts of it, and I just remember leaving the theater thinking I could have reread the book in less time than it took to watch the movie.

Plus I had to answer my husband’s repeated, “Why did you make me go see that? Why? Why??” in a tone of voice that would have been perfect in a super-emotional-Nicholas-Sparks-esque trailer, and I was like, “Honey, I’m so sorry, I had no idea it would be so slow. I just breezed through the books, I don’t understand it…”

I know people will want to throw stones at me (or at least a dozen rubber chickens at my head) for this evil hate speech confession that I did not love The Hunger Games movie. But after the first film, I couldn’t bring myself to watch Catching Fire — because if I fall asleep again out of boredom, that’s time I could be spending on important things, like watching Honest Trailers.

(If you haven’t seen it yet, the Honest Trailer for The Little Mermaid is really funny. The Little Mermaid is my all-time favorite Disney movie, but I still love the Honest Trailer making fun of it, it’s crass but omg with the giggles.)

Anyway — back to Mockingjay.

I’m not going to watch this film unless someone forces me to (which is doubtful). But I did read The New York Times movie review for Mockingjay tonight. Manohla Dargis wrote the review (I love her reviews!) and she wrote an insightful piece on Mockingjay.

What caught my attention the most was this picture though —







Typical war picture, right? People with weapons, walking through what looks like modern-day Syria, looking for people to kill.

But lately, I’ve been blogging about race in fiction, especially in sci-fi/fantasy fiction — namely the fact that, even in fantasy, the main characters are largely overwhelmingly all white. A writer named Amina Luqman wrote a poignant opinion piece about this for The Washington Post — “In the land of make-believe, racial diversity is a fantasy” — which I cited in a previous blog post, because this is an issue I started grappling with in a very serious way while writing Mark of the Pterren.

So. Here we have Mockingjay Part I. Probably the biggest blockbuster of the year. Let’s look at some of the main characters in Mockingjay Part I, shall we?

From the picture above, everyone knows Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen (including the illiterate leopard seal), and some people also know that Katniss had more olive in her skin (in the books) — and could have been played by an actress “of color” if she’d simply been cast that way. (Also, the phrase “people of color” kind of makes me queasy, since all people “have color” — but I’m just trying to go with mainstream labels, and “people of color” is a very mainstream way of discussing this, so there you go.)

Back to Katniss and Jennifer.

This is one situation where a main character could have been cast with darker skin, but wasn’t, although a lot of people forgive this immediately because Jennifer Lawrence is such a great actress. I’ll go on the forgiveness camp on this one, because I do love Jennifer Lawrence.

Let’s look at the other folks in the film —

Liam Hemsworth plays Gale Hawthorne.






Philip Seymore Hoffman plays Plutarch Heavensbee.






Donald Sutherland plays President Snow.






Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta Mellark.








(Can I just say how much I dislike the name Peeta? Also his hair in this picture is just omg with the mousse. Someone could have turned down the blow dryer just a tad.)

Julianne Moore plays this wench Alma Coin.








Natalie Dormer (on the right) plays Cressida.






I don’t remember Cressida from the book but I love Natalie Dormer in Game of Thrones and the promise of seeing her in Mockingjay Part I with this totally badass hair-and-tattoo look she is rocking is seriously tempting me to go watch this movie. Because these actors have major talent and Natalie is just fiercely rad with that hair. I would marry her just so I could watch her stalk around in my house every day looking so badassly beautiful.

Okay, I think I’ve covered all the main characters in Mockingjay at this point, so let’s go back to the first picture again, the one that caught all my attention —







Guess what writer-me saw when she looked at this picture?

White people leading. Black people following. Black people cast in minor roles that might be named in the books, but I’d have to go see the movie, read the book again, and then read the credits very carefully to tell you.

What bothered me most about this picture though was how the black woman looks like she’s from the backwoods of Sierra Leone, while the other people are all decked out in smart-looking military gear. I mean, I know the people in District 13 are poor and everything, but why does the black woman have to be the one sporting the developing country look? Or the Mississippi-in-the-days-of-slavery look? I have to wonder if the actress playing this role questioned why she didn’t at least get a vest or long sleeves or something. She just looks so glaringly out of place in that picture.

The black woman from backwoods Sierra Leone is also featured in the picture with Cressida, so I’m assuming she speaks in the film. (I hope she speaks in the film!) There’s also a “woman of color” playing an assistant-type woman in the picture with President Snow. And a black man is walking behind the white leads in the war picture, too.

Because white people leading. And people of color following.

I love The Hunger Games. I most certainly do. But I hurt inside, looking at all of these images. I just do. I hurt for our art.

So I look at that picture, with the black woman who looks so out of place, and the beautiful white people striding along being totally beautiful in front of the camera, and I recast them as characters in Mark of the Pterren. Arren would be Katniss, and Arren is Hispanic, cinnamon-skinned with black hair. Lincoln would be Gale, and Lincoln is Japanese. Arren and Lincoln don’t come together in the first book — they don’t even meet until the third — but they are the cohorts of Katniss and Gale in The Hunger Games, so that’s why I picked them to share.

I love Jennifer Lawrence. I think Liam Hemsworth looks beautiful as Gale, and the filmmakers picked truly talented actors to play all of these roles.

So what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Sci-fi/fantasy movies are white people land. Even in Mockingjay, the main characters all get to be white.

While it’s not a sci-fi/fantasy book, the YA novel Eleanor and Park went against this. So did Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I love those books. I want more of those books. I want those books to be turned into movies. Like yesterday.

But I have this ache in my heart. This pain that says do something. And then asks, Are you doing enough?

I don’t know. I have this anxiety now. I’m trying. I can tell you with 100% conviction: I am trying. I don’t know if it’s enough. But it’s something. Mark of the Pterren will be going off to my beta-readers in the next few days. I hope they’ll let me know what they think.

This entry was posted in My Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s