Casting Katniss

Slate's Culture Blog
March 4 2011 9:14 AM

Casting Katniss

It's been a good year or two for tough girls on film. We had Jennifer Lawrence in  Winter's Bone  and  Hailee Steinfeld in  True Grit , both of whom were feted at this weekend's Oscars. Chloë Moretz redeemed herself for appearing in  the deplorable ( 500) Days of Summe r  with her scene-stealing role as Hit-Girl in  Kick-Ass.  And in a few weeks we'll see the debut of  Sucker Punch , Zack Snyder's action-fantasy about five female teens who escape from an insane asylum. 


But the most hotly anticipated bad-ass lass has got to be Katniss Everdeen. She's the heroine of  The Hunger Games , Suzanne Collins' mega-selling YA series that's set to make its screen debut in 2012. ( Slate 's David Plotz, Emily Bazelon, and I  discussed the series  last summer.) Now it seems the casting drama for that film is heating up:  reported yesterday  that 30 actresses have "met or read for the role," including Lawrence, Steinfeld, and Moretz. Other contenders include Abigail Breslin, Saoirse Ronan,  Sucker Punch  star Emily Browning, and Lyndsy Fonseca (currently on  Nikita  but probably better known to  longtime Brow Beat readers  as Ted's daughter on  How I Met Your Mother ). 


Variety   noted the day before  that Lawrence has "generated the most interest" at Lionsgate, which on one hand makes me happy. Ree Dolly, her character in  Winter's Bone , has the same grit, hardscrabble past, and allergy to cuteness that Katniss does. I'd be thrilled to watch her. But on the other hand, I'm sad that, as the  Wall Street Journal   reported and Vulture  highlighted , the casting breakdowns are specifically looking for a Caucasian actress. (They're not even using the weaselly " Caucasian or any other ethnicity " formulation.) I was one of the many fans who hoped that the books' description of Katniss's "straight black hair" and "olive skin" might open the doors for a non-white actress a move that would have gone a long way toward appeasing those aggrieved parties who recently slapped would-be blockbusters  The Last Airbend er and  Prince of Persia  with  charges of whitewashing .  

The Hunger Games  are a major, missed opportunity for more diverse casting. Like the Harry Potter films before them, this franchise has a massive, built-in audience. As long as the performers are good and the directing is solid and hell, maybe even if they aren't viewers will buy tickets in droves. I'm sure that, as in  Airbender , many of the smaller, supporting roles will be cast with ethnic actors.  Hunger Games  will have its  Cho Changs and Padma and Parvati Patils  scampering about the margins of its deadly,  Hieronymous Bosch -like arenas. But would it be too much to ask for a Katniss in color?

Photograph of Jennifer Lawrence by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.


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