One is a horrible tragedy; a young life cut short for no good reason. The other is a wildly popular film about a dystopian future in which young lives are cut short for no good reason.

Unfortunately, the similarities and connections don’t stop there.

As stated earlier, the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, shot dead by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch “officer,” is a tragedy. The actual facts of the case remain murky, with a lot of unanswered questions:

  • Was the shooting a matter of self-defense, as Zimmerman claims?
  • If so, was not Martin provoked by Zimmerman stalking him?

Indeed, it may have been Martin who was “standing his ground,” not Zimmerman. Based on the boy’s last conversation with his girlfriend, he seemed to be afraid of Zimmerman. Apparently, the mutual fear and suspicion exploded into a conflict and it cost Martin his life.

Sadly, we’ll never get Martin’s side of the story, and before the uproar started, the local authorities were all too willing to accept Zimmerman’s side of the story at face value.

The reason is that black people, especially young men, rarely get the benefit of the doubt.

We’re certainly conditioned enough from an early age in this way. Every day on every local newscast we see a parade of black and brown faces and the latest additions to their rap sheets. We overhear the latest thugged-out lyrics of popular rap music. We learn about the latest bad behavior of black athletes and celebrities.

And, unfortunately, sometimes that’s the ONLY vision of black people they get. The normal, non-criminal blacks they know then become the “exception” to the so-called “norm” they see on TV screens and magazine covers.

Cut to “Hunger Games.” [SPOILER ALERT] A well-beloved character named Rue dies about midway through the film. She’s sweet and utterly adorable and dark-skinned.

That last part, as noted in these articles in The New Yorker and Jezebel magazines, brought some fans of the original novels short who missed that part of her character description in said novel.

What brings me short is that for some of these young fans, Rue’s tragic death literally didn’t seem as tragic to them any more because she wasn’t the innocent white girl they’d pictured.

As though a young black girl couldn’t possibly be innocent and lovable. Their reaction to the character and her fate on screen shows a shocking lack of empathy for black people as people.

This is honestly the most discouraging revelation of how far we still have to go in race relations in this country. These aren’t hardened, older racists making the Tweets cited in the news stories. These are the young. The ones who don’t have any memory of Jim Crow or the institutionalized white supremacist attitudes that used to be commonplace in America.

Somehow, they’ve adopted those attitudes anyway.

My hope is that once the initial shock of Rue’s ethnicity wears off, some of these Hunger Games fans will adjust their preconceptions and bring a new awareness to their own lives and how they relate to black people. Then, maybe, fewer Trayvon Martins will be viewed with automatic suspicion and more real-life Rues will be cherished as the innocent young girls they are.