Revealing and disheartening

When The Hunger Games raked in $152 million during its opening weekend—making it the third-highest-grossing debut ever—I thought we’d be talking about the film’s badass heroine Katniss Everdeen and what her character means for strong female film protagonists.

Instead, we found ourselves talking about race.

In the days after the film’s premiere, teenagers across the country took to Twitter to decry the movie’s film’s casting of key roles.

“[C]all me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad,” tweeted one moviegoer, apparently, upset that the role of Rue, a young tribute in the film, was played by African-American actress Amandla Stenberg.

Another disgruntled watcher offered this:

“Why does Rue have to be black … not gonna lie, kinda ruined the movie.”

And then there was this:

“Cinna and Rue aren’t supposed to be black … why did the producer make all of the good characters black?

Never mind that in the book Cinna’s character is ethnically ambiguous or that author Suzanne Collins describes Rue’s character as having dark skin, the real issue here is more disturbing—our society is decidedly at odds on the topic of how we talk and think about race in America.

Certainly, pop culture often holds up a disturbing mirror to our beliefs and actions and the circumstances; our reactions to real world news events are even more revealing—and disheartening.

The Trayvon Martin case is, of course, a prime example of this.

More than a month after the black Florida teen was killed—supposedly in an act of self-defense by self-appointed neighborhood-watch coordinator George Zimmerman—questions, accusations and anger continue to simmer.

The question isn’t why are we so outraged about Martin’s murder. The question is why did it take the death of 17-year-old, hoodie-wearing kid to jumpstart this conversation?

Regardless of what you think of Zimmerman’s character—he’s been painted as everything from a violence-prone vigilante to a mild-mannered citizen—and his claims of self-defense, Martin’s death has reopened old wounds and scars on the subject of race. The intensity and deep sociological implications of which are only underscored by those teenagers’ reactions to The Hunger Games or the latest viral video—a clip uploaded to YouTube in which Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum supposedly almost drops an N-bomb.

“We know … we know the candidate Barack Obama, what he was like,” Santorum told a roomful of enthusiastic supporters. “The anti-war, government nig—uh, the, uh, America was a source for division around the world.”

What did Santorum really mean to say? Not surprisingly, he’s denied the accusation—well, his spokesman did anyway, calling the allegation “unbelievable.”

So, what’s the real truth? We may never know—the candidate’s yet to offer an explanation.

And we certainly may never know when it comes to Martin—it’s now Zimmerman’s word against a young man who will never speak again.

This much we do know: Martin’s death is at once inarguably polarizing and eye-opening.

From Geraldo Rivera’s claim that the hoodie was as responsible for Martin’s death as was Zimmerman’s gun to President Obama’s assertion that, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin”—Martin’s murder has set the stage for a national conversation on race and our hypocrisies and prejudices—some rooted in our unconscious, others front and center—on the subject.

Clearly, whether we’re talking about the life of a young man, politics or movies on the big screen, this is a conversation that is long overdue.