Yesterday Lionsgate announced that Jennifer Lawrence is going to be taking on the role of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Director Gary Ross talked to Entertainment Weekly about the somewhat controversial casting choice:
There’s already quite a bit of hand-wringing that, no matter how good an actress Lawrence is, at 20 she’s simply too old for the role.
First of all, I talked to Suzanne extensively about this. Suzanne saw every single audition. And not only did Suzanne not have an issue with Jen’s age, she felt you need someone of a certain maturity and power to be Katniss. This is a girl who needs to incite a revolution. We can’t have an insubstantial person play her, and we can’t have someone who’s too young to play this. Suzanne was incredibly adamant about this. Far from being too old, she was very concerned that we would cast someone who was too young. In Suzanne’s mind, and in mine, Katniss is not a young girl. It’s important for her to be a young woman. She’s a maternal figure in her family. She’s had to take care of Prim, and in many ways her mother, since her father’s death. She’s had to grow up pretty quickly.
I agree that Katniss does have a certain maturity and responsibility, but she’s also pretty naive and immature when it comes to dealing with other people or her own feelings. She is very good at pushing those feelings away, at not dealing with her feelings so that she can go out and take care or her family or survive the Games. As Peeta says, she doesn’t know the effect she can have. So, can Lawrence pull off both the badass archer and the innocent girl who the Capitol believes acted out of love?
Furthermore, is a younger actress really incapable of portraying the same maturity? Did 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld not show that she was capable of it in True Grit? I just don’t believe that you need an older actress to portray a mature teenage character.
In the books, Katniss is described as being olive-skinned, dark-haired, possibly biracial. Did you discuss with Suzanne the implications of casting a blond, caucasian girl?
Suzanne and I talked about that as well. There are certain things that are very clear in the book. Rue is African-American. Thresh is African-American. Suzanne had no issues with Jen playing the role. And she thought there was a tremendous amount of flexibility. It wasn’t doctrine to her. Jen will have dark hair in the role, but that’s something movies can easily achieve. [Laughs] I promise all the avid fans of The Hunger Games that we can easily deal with Jennifer’s hair color.
So, here we are with a concrete answer as to whether Collins meant for Katniss to be a person of color. Apparently not (or not definitely). Frankly, I’m disappointed because apparently the racial divides in the series are not as important to the author as they are to many readers, and because this casting means that movie Katniss will never match “my” Katniss. This is always an issue when casting a film adaptation of a book, but to cast someone with a round face, pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes when the character is described as having angular features, dark skin and dark hair just means that it will be that much harder for Lawrence to really become Katniss for a lot of fans.