“Capitol”-ism in Action: Classism and The Hunger Games
Unless you’re new to the internet, you’ve probably heard about the backlash because the actress playing Rue (Amandla Stenberg)–and to a lesser extent Cinna (Lenny Kravitz)–is black. Even though the book described Rue as a girl with “dark brown skin and eyes” (Chapter 3, p. 45). Even though Amandla does a remarkable job. Even though many of us couldn’t imagine Rue without Amandla. However, just a few pages prior to Rue’s physical description, Katniss states “District 12 was in a region known as Appalachia. Even hundreds of years ago, they mined coal here. Which is why our miners have to dig so deep.” (Chapter 3, p. 39). I’ve come to the conclusion that people must have skimmed or skipped Chapter 3 entirely because people seem to forget 1) that Rue is dark-skinned, and/or 2) that District 12 is explicitly stated as having been Appalachia.
If you watch the movie, it should be pretty clear to you that Katniss lives in Appalachia. The mountains, the forest, the unfortunate but overwhelming poverty…it feels like home. Kaci is a coal miner’s daughter; she knows exactly what Katniss means when she says, “‘It’s all that coal dust, from the old days,’ I say. It was in every crack and crevice. Ground into the floorboards” (Catching Fire, Chapter 9, page 131).” Amber didn’t grow up near the mines, but she can completely relate to the self-sufficiency that the Everdeens endure. Her uncles grew corn and raised chickens, and nearly everyone she knows has at least once hunted meat to survive the winter. (Amber note: I didn’t realize that people hunted for sport until I was in high school, and I still find it abhorrent.) Suffice it to say, we’re pretty familiar with the area.
While it’s certainly true that not everyone here has a thick drawl, it’s equally true that those who tend to have it most often are coal mining families, like Katniss’s. Interestingly, Suzanne Collins herself gave Katniss an accent when she performed a reading of the first chapter of Mockingjay in August 2010. It’s problematic, then, that Katniss, Prim, Gale, Peeta, or, indeed, virtually any character we hear speak from District 12 lack accents. Only one character does: Katniss’s mother, whom we’re supposed to dislike due to the way she shut down after her husband’s death and left Katniss and Prim to starve. By using accents in this way, the film “coded” Katniss’s mom. Having an accent equals bad person. Not having one equals good. In fact, Elizabeth Bird, New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist, discusses this common phenomenon at length on the School Library Journal Blog.
A term people use–over and over and over–in the comments of Collins’ YouTube video is hillbilly. Words like hillbilly and redneck are slurs, as you can see. They are offensive and used to demean and belittle. The comment “Katniss is a hillbilly? Real or Not Real?” received 123 upvotes. Another popular comment was “the accent ruins my image inside my head of Katniss.” Why do 74 people celebrate this sort of bigotry while simultaneously condemning the exact same comments of Rue? Racism is wrong, but classism or regionalism isn’t? Some Southerners try to reclaim the term in the same way that other cultures attempt to reclaim slurs against them. However, this task is impossible if the term has not already become taboo; therefore, people “reclaiming” redneck and hillbilly are only propagating the stereotype because those terms are still acceptable–and celebrated–to use in polite society.
Kaci and Amber are both from Appalachia. (We both also have slight accents, yet they aren’t as pronounced as what Collins intended.) Overall, we enjoyed the shared experience of seeing the movie in the cinema with other District 12 residents. You could feel palpable tension in the room during the coal mining scene. You could see the smiles of recognition of the mountains. You could sense the discomfort at airing the all-too-common poverty. Still, as the announcer in the movie states, we are proud to be from District 12. We just wish that more people were proud of our culture, too.
If you’re interested in reading a bit more about Appalachia and the importance of place, please visit this link for more information on Appalachia.