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Why do young adult book-to-film heroines all look the same?

July 30, 2013
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All of our favorite YA book-to-movie heroines have a very similar look. They are all very, very….white. A large percentage of them have brown hair, too! When will we have a leading lady that isn’t Caucasian? The only one that even goes a little bit darker than pasty white is Katniss of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and she is played by Jennifer Lawrence. That olive tone that is described in the books is accomplished on the blonde and pale actress using movie magic. Makeup! Also, when the casting call went out for Katniss Everdeen, they specified that she had to be Caucasian.

While “Caucasian” does include a lot of groups you may not expect, in a Hollywood casting call, they mean white. This caused an outcry of controversy. “She’s olive toned with black hair, she doesn’t have to be Caucasian!” shouted the public. “Middle-Eastern, Asian, and Native-American women can fit her description perfectly too!” Nobody is saying that Jennifer Lawrence isn’t an absolutely amazing actress (she absolutely nailed the part and is an Oscar-winner for Silver Linings Playbook) but the girls below fit her description, and maybe could have done her justice if given the chance. They didn’t even get to walk into the audition room because Hollywood considers Caucasian “default” for their heroines. This isn’t blaming the talented stars of these franchises, they’ve gotten amazing opportunities and have gone far with them. Does Hollywood think a film fronted with a woman of color, will fail? Or is it just that white authors are writing from the perspective of a white protagonist since that’s what they know?

Representing only one teeny tiny fraction of the girls in the world is not only unrealistic, it’s just sad. I mean, in my opinion every girl should have a YA heroine they can look at and say, “She looks like me!” With the current onslaught of YA book to movie adaptations, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that they could be able to. But, they can’t.


Q’orianka Kilcher:

Dilshad Vadsaria:

Jamie Chung:


amandlaClary, Bella, Lena, Julie, Katniss, Wanda, Tris…they could all be sisters! Almost all of our favorite blockbuster films based on books have a heroine who is described as white. However, many descriptions that are “on the line” (like Katniss) are almost always bent to the Caucasian side for their film adaptations. What if, one day, a leading character was cast in a different race than they were described? Bent the other way than Hollywood normally sways. Would this make you upset? What if we saw an Asian or Middle-Eastern leading lady who was described as white? It happens all the time with supporting characters, studios don’t want to entirely white-wash their movies, so they cast people of color in supporting roles to avert criticisms.

When Amandla Stenberg was cast in the role of Rue in The Hunger Games, who is described as having dark hair, skin, and eyes, there was a huge public shnafoo about it. The actress talked her confusion with Rookie Magazine, saying, “It was pretty shocking to see some of the articles that compiled the tweets I received. I remember calling my friend Jackie Emerson and telling her I wouldn’t understand all of the drama even if Rue wasn’t supposed to be black.”

She’s totally right. Even if the character wasn’t described as black (and she was), would it really be that big of a deal? I don’t think it would be, at all. Amandla is gorgeous, and an amazing actress! I would have loved to see her in the part even if Rue had been described as blonde and blue-eyed. Films are never carbon copies of their source material, after all.

“If you’re a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, if you’re a person of size, a person of intelligence, a person of integrity, then you’re considered a minority in this world. And it’s going to be really hard to find messages of self-love and support anywhere. It’s all about how you have to look a certain way or else you’re worthless. For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution and our revolution is long overdue.” - Margaret Cho


Annabeth of Percy Jackson:

Hermione of Harry Potter:

Tris of Divergent:

Rose of Vampire Academy:

Wanda / Melanie of The Host:

Big ups to Upworthy for bringing this to the public’s attention, and NextMovie.com for the below graphic. They all have nearly the exact same body type too…but that’s a different article.


Would you like to see a heroine with a new look make it in Hollywood?


Kimmy is a 21 year old nerdfighter who is the founder and editor-in-chief of Page to Premiere. When she's not writing about books and movies here or on her Hunger Games site called Mockingjay.net, she loves Tumblr-ing, eating sushi, drinking Thai iced tea, and being lazy with her cat Rue! She hopes to be a published author one day. You can follow her on Twitter at @kimmymary.


  • Rich

    Maybe if the Maze Runner is successful, they can cast a person of color for the role of Brenda for The Scorch Trials. Her book description is pretty vague anyways, being describe as having brown hair and brown eyes. The cast is already pretty diverse.

  • Cristina E Gonzalez

    yeah its a bit weird, read the article, and im like Rose is suppose to have a bit of a darker skin then white, she is describe in the book as having the color of skin of the inside of a walnut shell or something like that, and also she isn’t suppose to be that thin, she is suppose to have curves, and big boobs like it says in the book, and yeah, bella from twilight look pale as well, its weird, cause they had to put all this extra makeup on the vampires to get them to look paler then the actors who played humans in that movie. and clary in the movie doesn’t look to white, when she is sick, yeah she goes pale, but if you seen the pics, and the trailer, she don’t look that white. oh and love the little girl who played Rue, she was great, Annabelle, from percy Jackson movie, she looks really white, but love her eye color. but yeah I can see that they all look alike.

  • Anna

    Look, what Bella does for her daughter is something any sane mom would do for her child. And despite her being a horrible character, she is sane, and this is normal. Katniss tries to save the districts, and in some way avenge everyone fallen in the Hunger Games, even though she first puts herself in danger for Prim. Hermione tries to save the Wizarding World, not only Harry’s or Ron’s life. Tris is trying to protect the factions, not just Tobias. Annabeth helps Percy save the world from Kronos/ Gaea, and faces her biggest fear all alone in the Mark of Athena. Clary is a bit selfish, but in the end she does her best to protect Downworlders from Valentine and the world from Sebatian, even if the price would be killing Jace. These are heroines, they do heroic things. Does Bella do such things? No. In Breaking Dawn she is merely trying to protect her child, and her family. She doesn’t care if others would die as long as Renesmee, Edward and Jacob are safe, and maybe her parents and in-laws if possible, but not necessary. She’s not a heroine. She’s a MAIN FEMALE CHARACTER.

  • J.F.

    Okay, but by this definition, Elizabeth Bennet also does not qualify as a heroine. Neither would Anne Shirley or Jo March or if you want something a little more contemporary, The Fault in Our Stars’ Hazel Lancaster.

  • Nicole

    She’s the main female character in the story, even if you didn’t like it or understand her motivations – that doesn’t change the fact SHE IS A HEROINE. Each one has there own motivations, a noble cause or gesture doesn’t make the character what they are, it just makes them noble. Twilight is a love story, that has a hero and a heroine – authors refer to them as such. Get over it and move on.

  • Anna

    Look, you are, and at the same time, you’re not right. The meaning of the word ‘heroine’ has changed a lot. I meant heroine as in female who does heroic things, and I think so did Elizabeth. You mean heroine as in main female character. There’s a difference between the two. She is not a heroine, but perhaps a book heroine, as in book main character. You didn’t quite understand what I meant. And a noble cause makes someone more or less who they are- you just can’t say ‘noble’ is a minor character trait and not a defining one. Sure, there are others who define a person, but this is one of the main ones.

  • Anna

    Lavender Brown became white because that was the actress that fit. Hermione, Ginny and Luna were all white in the books as well, and thus couldn’t have been black in the movies, but Lavander was never really described, the actress could have had any skin colour, it’s just that they found Jessie Cave to have better acting.

  • Anna

    Look, I know the thing here is all characters being white, but the title isn’t very well chosen, because, even if all of them are indeed white, they do NOT look the same.

  • Nicole

    I say that because the majority of people in life spend there time living it, not trying to do something noble. Rarely in real life, is anyone noble. But, we’re talking fiction so, even Katniss isn’t noble – not truly. Taking her sisters place from the outside looks noble but really she knew she would have a better chance at surviving whereas her sister would certainly die. Whether she did it out of love or just to keep her sister safe, her motivation wasn’t I will die so my sister can live – it was HER need to take care of her sister. SHE wouldn’t of been able to live with the guilt of not taking her sisters place. That’s not noble, that’s selfish. The rebellion just happened and they stamped her name on it – she was true to herself but aside for grieving for Rue, she did nothing spectacular. Katniss is of course a survivor and she loves her sister but she’s not noble. Similar arguments can be made for each character. Which in Bella’s case, Twilight is a YA Romance – I don’t think Step Meyers claimed it as anything else. In a Romance novel there is a hero and a heroine, they fall in love and have a Happily Ever After – that’s how a romance novel works otherwise its just fiction. Bella does however help save all the vampires in the end of BD part2 if you want to get technical. She might not have a completely altruistic motive, but honey no one does – or like .001% of people do. Majority of us do what we do because we either want to or we have a good reason to. If you tell yourself something different then you’re just lying to yourself and you are in serious need a reality check. Regardless Bella might not be the best example of a heroine, but she is one.

  • Brandon Meacham

    Intensely Emotional?

  • E. White

    Sanaa Lathan is black

  • Mary Doyle

    I always thought she was Hispanic! My bad :)

  • Jas Serr

    Great article. I agree with it. One thing I don’t really get (besides the Caucasian heroine thing), is why all of them are super skinny… It’s one of the few things I don’t like about teen-fiction books (AND Hollywood). Are we ever gonna see a curvy or plus-size heroine? The only one I know so far that is curvy is Maia Roberts from The Mortal Instruments… but she’s a supporting character.

  • Hellsbloodyrose(Alyssa)

    Rose is actually supposed to be turkish.

  • http://eneya.wordpress.com/ Eneya Vorodecky

    That movie had so many problems… but the cast was a huge part of it as well.
    On the other hand… I am kinda glad they went with almost all white cast since when it flopped because it really sucks as a way in it was made, Hollywood wouldn’t blame it on the people of colour the same way they react every time they produce a dumb movie with female lead and then use it as an excuse “see, women don’t sell movies!!11″. Silver lining and all that. :)

  • http://eneya.wordpress.com/ Eneya Vorodecky

    So… she could play fine for… how many books and years but suddenly… it appears that another actress plays better. Yeah, am not buying this. Even if the actress wasn’t good enough (I’d need some serious proof to buy this explanation), why didn’t they search for a black actress to continue the role and had the change? Or it was an open cast?

    On the other hand, the cringeworthiness of Lavender Brown was so irritatingly “done so i can make stupid tension” that I felt I was reading something written by someone without any experience writing at all.

    P.S. Heh, another change, I am still intrigued how Crab and Goyle changed. :)

  • Anna

    Oh, God. First, don’t “honey” me. Second, Katniss did what she did because she loved her sister, not because “she couldn’t have lived with the guilt”. It was a spontaneous action, she didn’t stay to think of it. And maybe not being able to live with the guilt is part of loving someone. She’s not very noble, but she is heroic. And Bella isn’t trying to protect the other vampires- just her daughter. And I’ve read BD, and that’s the impression it left on me.

  • Anna

    The guy in the last movie was Zabini, not Crabbe, but you might have heard this a ton of times before, so I guess it’s not new to you. :)

  • Anna

    My God. First, don’t “honey” me. Second, they are FICTIONAL. And Bella wasn’t trying to save the others- just her daughter. And I’ve read BD, and that’s the impression it left on me. Okay?

  • http://eneya.wordpress.com/ Eneya Vorodecky

    Oh… fuck… Zabini, yes, sorry… my mistake. Damn, I am wearing my dumb hat today.

  • American

    Since these novels are action-packed, of course they wouldn’t feature plus-size heroines!

    So many of these bleeding heart liberal comments are absurdly politically correct and impractical to apply!

  • American

    The filmmakers simply cast actors of the races described in the book.

    If you have a problem with it, just write a hit YA novel with a minority
    lead, and let Hollywood adapt it with a minority cast as the lead.

  • American

    As I wrote above, the filmmakers simply cast actors of the races described in the book.

    If you have a problem with it, just write a hit YA novel with a minority
    lead, and let Hollywood adapt it with a minority cast as the lead.

  • J.F.

    Not true. Katniss was written as ethnically ambiguous; she was cast as white. Four from Veronica Roth’s Divergent was canonically biracial but is cast as white for the movie. The Host’s Melanie is described as having “brown” skin several times, with her younger brother Jaime described as having “dark brown” skin, and in the movie they are cast as white. Many, many young adult novels with heroines of color get whitewashed covers because PoC aren’t “marketable”. The Hollywood and publishing industries systematically ignore and erase people of color, and as someone who works in the movie industry I am acutely aware of the decisions that go into it. It’s not accidental and it’s not because there are no talented writers out there writing PoC characters.

  • American

    Maybe Katniss was written as ethnically ambiguous but not racially ambiguous. And Melanie was just supposed to be swarthy but not non-white.

    I haven’t heard a single claim by any of the authors that the actresses cast were of the wrong race.

    Also, many race neutral supporting characters in film adaptations are cast as races other than white.

  • Chiara Calogero

    mmmh…… i think that clary is red haired, didn’t you notice it?

  • Jenna

    If you remember, one of the main reasons Katniss went to find Peeta in the book was because she would have basically been a pariah in the district if she didn’t team up with him. Katniss, while being a wonderful character, has mainly selfish motivations. She agreed to help with the rebellion only under certain circumstances or she wouldn’t have done it.

    Also, Bella was absolutely trying to save everyone. Maybe you should read the book again. She basically lived with them for a month or so, and some of them became like family. So maybe get off your high horse, and accept that small things can be just as heroic as big things. You don’t have to save the whole world to be a hero or a heroine. You don’t even have to have pure intentions.

  • Rebecca Walden

    I agree with this article. It seems that in book-to-movie adaptations, they will change the look of the leading lady, if only slightly. Personally, when I read The Hunger Games and heard Katniss talk about having “the seam look”, I pictured her looking a lot more exotic than Jennifer Lawrence does. Not that JLaw isn’t great.. she’s just a little whiter than I imagined Kantiss was supposed to be. I think the movie makers made this change specifically to appease the Caucasian-majority audience (at least that’s what they thought the target audience would be). Lena from Beautiful Creatures is said specifically to have BLACK hair, whereas in the film it’s obviously brown. Clary from The Mortal Instruments is supposed to have flaming orange-red hair, whereas in the film it’s more of a brown-with-just-a-teensy-bit-of-red. So why is Hollywood turning all these leading ladies into the same-looking girl? What I think might be happening is that they think or believe the target audience for these films are teen/young adult Caucasian girls. So why are they giving them brown hair? I think it’s because brown is the most common hair color. So my theory is that they are trying to cater to the ‘typical young female audience’. There’s nothing wrong with white, brown-haired girls, obviously. But it is dumb that they’re turning all these girls into carbon copies of each other.

  • Leah Klein

    so between this and the current controversy with miss America, basically what we’re saying is that in our country you’re only allowed to dream big as long as you don’t look different. a beautiful, well-educated indian woman had a dream, but according to some bc of her skin and look she doesn’t derserve it. over a hundred years and we still haven’t really changed. we should probably stop bragging for a little bit.

  • Karina

    Honestly why does it matter. If a main character is white, black, brown hair, blonde hair, BLUE hair. They are all so different sure they have similarities but all humans do. I wouldn’t care if the main character was gay/straight/white/black or anything. It just doesn’t matter to me.

  • EVELYN

    Rose Hathaway

  • Rica Jackson

    But that is the thing, they don’t. They are continuously white-washing characters in books to fit how they believe they should. Like the author said, olive skin doesn’t necessarily mean white. In fact more than likely when people say olive skin they mean a different race or else they would have just said white.

    Not only that your last sentence, someone made the point one time that the publishers felt that she had this great novel except the fact that the protagonist was black or another race so either she changes her main character’s race or they refuse to publish it. There have been many who have changed their race and others who said no and we never got to read them because they wouldn’t publish it.

  • Rica Jackson

    Yea. And they are also way more likely to change the lead character’s race to white if the character was a person of color.

  • American

    “In fact more than likely when people say olive skin they mean a different race or else they would have just said white”

    Oh that’s not factual at all! There are plenty of Europeans in Mediterranean countries that could be described as olive skinned,

    Katniss Everdeen wasn’t written as non-white so I wish people would quit trying to find racism in Jennifer Lawrence’s casting already.

  • Rica Jackson

    We are never gonna see those Mediterreans in those roles unless they are considered white-passing. What does written as non-white mean? Her skin tone was olive which means she could be any race. Not only that but there were people when they found out Hunger Games was being made into a movie asked if they would be having an open casting to get actual olive toned people in there. They said NO. Jennifer Lawrence is not olive tone she is pale. If you really think they would have made her actually olive toned/POC even if it explicitly stated it, then you are delusional.

    Hollywood doesn’t like taking risks and they believe real action movies with girl main characters is a risk. And you could be damned sure they wouldn’t make her a different color after that.

  • American

    Katniss Everdeen wasn’t written as a racial minority and I think it is pathetic how badly race baiters are trying to insinuate she was.

    You are correct that Lawrence isn’t olive-skinned but she was selected simply because she was famous and talented.

    And apparently, not many people, black or white, cared at all since the movies are huge hits at the box office.

  • Brittany Hawes

    Awesome post, Kimmy! I was just talking to my friend about the fact that every heroine in the latest book-to-movie adaptations look and act EXACTLY the same! I’ve been writing all of my life and I’ve always wrote about characters that were just like these girls because that’s all I knew. I’m 20 and African-American! It would be cool to see someone that looks like me on the big screen and in some books and not be a supporting character. Now that I’m an author, I’m happy to say that my first book features a wide variety of characters, from African-American to homosexual. Lol, this is 2014! We need to show every type of human being.
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1939535476/ref=redir_mdp_mobile

    P.S. If I read another book that describes the token black girl as “mocha-skinned” when no other character has to have their skin described, I’m going to scream!!

  • richie

    I don’t really care about their skin color, it could be black, orange, green or white. It shouldn’t matter.

  • Cassidy Parker Knight

    Great article, really. I know it’s old. Another one that was on the line that got shifted to pure white was Zoey Deutch in Vampire Academy. Don’t get me wrong, she was completely amazing as Rose, but whereas Rose was half white half Turkish in the books, Zoey is just white. Maybe a Middle Eastern-looking actress could’ve done just as good a job as Zoey if she’d had a chance to audition.

  • Cassidy Parker Knight

    In the first five movies Lavendar Brown was basically a featured extra. Did she even have any lines? But then in the sixth, they actually needed to find an actress. Still a shame that it meant they lost one of their nonwhite characters with that casting though.