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‘Catching Fire’ Becomes Second ‘Hunger Games’ Film with Racial Casting Controversy

Jeffrey Wright as Beetee

Jeffrey Wright as Beetee

Nowadays, nothing quite brings out the most insufferable qualities in human nature like a fantasy movie with an ardent fan base.

In the latest installment of the theater of the absurd, a small but vocal (because aren’t they always?) minority of Hunger Games fans have bemoaned the choice of Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, a veteran of the deadly Darwinian competition that pits groups of adolescents against one another for sport.

In the dystopian world of Catching Fire, which opens today, Beeteee is a technical genius who aligns himself with the story’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen, another Hunger Games champion. Wright, whose resume includes an incredibly broad array of roles that include civil rights icons and Dominican drug lords, is black. Meanwhile, Beetee was written in the insanely popular book series as a white male.

Cue the righteous indignation. Internet trolls immediately took to blogs and social networks to vent about the politically correct casting decision, simultaneously stoking the embers of racial insensitivity. Recalling the isolated outcry that greeted Idris Elba when he was cast as a largely peripheral character in Thor, Wright has handled the controversy with characteristic professionalism and class.

Lest we all tie ourselves up in knots and manufactured outrage about the state of race relations, there are some broad takeaways to consider about Wright’s turn in Catching Fire:

Arguments against the racial inversion of characters are less racist than they are purist.

Devotees to novels and comic books are guilty of an extreme form of cathexis that renders them completely irrational when the movie adaptation rolls along. Maybe it’s the long march to turning a book into a move, or the feeling of helplessness that comes with not having a real say in how their favorite characters get brought to life. Whatever it is, they tend to be rabid enforcers of doctrinal purity who demand the movie resemble the source material in its most exact form.

Some might also recall that the original casting choice of Jennifer Lawrence was initially unpopular with Hunger Games faithful because she was considered—wait for it—too white. The book described Katniss as racially ambiguous with dark hair and olive skin: Ironically enough, fans thought the blond, alabaster skinned Lawrence was too white.

This means casting decisions become more controversial than they should be. When subtle details are altered, it becomes an outrage against humanity, and shakes them to their core.  The most devoted acolytes of a series tend to be the only ones who notice these things, or even care, while the uninitiated (people who have never read the book [like your writer] – wouldn’t know the difference one way or the other.

Tempests on a Twitter feed tend to fade pretty quickly, and have little practical import.

Regardless of who plays a secondary character like Beetee, Catching Fire will likely outperform its predecessor at the box office.

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