Monday, May 14, 2012

Beethoven and The Hunger Games

Ludwig van Beethoven
Yeah, I know what you're thinking, what does Ludwig van Beethoven have to do with The Hunger Games?  Keep reading to find out!

I was trying to think of an interesting topic to write about today, and decided to post something on famous mixed race individuals through history.  Ludwig van Beethoven immediately came to mind, so I started doing a little research.

Here’s his life in a nutshell, courtesy Wikipedia:   

Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 17 December 1770– 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers.

Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire, Beethoven moved to Vienna in his early 20s, studying with Joseph Haydn and quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. His hearing began to deteriorate in his late twenties, yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, even after becoming completely deaf.

What's not always mentioned in some biographical accounts is Beethoven's ancestry. His mother was a Moor, that group of Muslim North Africans who conquered parts of Europe and made Spain their capital for about 800 years.  So regarding Beethoven's race, I read an interesting article at Open Salon that quoted several sources about his appearance:

Frederick Hertz, German anthropologist, used these terms to describe him: “Negroid traits, dark skin, flat, thick nose.”

Emil Ludwig, in his book “Beethoven,” says: “His face reveals no trace of the German. He was so dark that people dubbed him Spagnol [dark-skinned].”

Fanny Giannatasio del Rio, in her book “An Unrequited Love: An Episode in the Life of Beethoven,” wrote “His somewhat flat broad nose and rather wide mouth, his small piercing eyes and swarthy [dark] complexion, pockmarked into the bargain, gave him a strong resemblance to a mulatto.”
 C. Czerny stated, “His beard--he had not shaved for several days--made the lower part of his already brown face still darker.”

Following are one word descriptions of Beethoven from various writers: Grillparzer, “dark”; Bettina von Armin, “brown”; Schindler, “red and brown”; Rellstab, “brownish”; Gelinek, “short, dark.”
 Newsweek, in its Sept. 23, 1991 issue stated, “Afrocentrism ranges over the whole panorama of human history, coloring in the faces: from Australopithecus to the inventors of mathematics to the great Negro composer Beethoven.”

Amandla Stenberg as Rue from The Hunger Games
As I read through all these descriptions, I couldn’t help but think of the racist tweets about the black actors in the motion picture adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s novel The Hunger Games. Apparently these young tweeters were surprised that the characters they’d fallen in love with in the story were dark skinned individuals.  However, their appearances were clearly described in The Hunger Games.

If you missed this news like I did, when it first broke back  in March after the release of The Hunger Games movie, here’s a portion of an article from

For at least a few moviegoers, the decision to make Rue and Thresh African-American weakened the film's impact. "Why does rue have to be black not gonna lie ruined the movie," one dismayed fan tweeted. "EWW rue is black?? I'm not watching," bemoaned another. "Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn't as sad #ihatemyself." Many more tweets, some employing the "n-word," have been collected on a Tumblr page called Hunger Games Tweets, which seeks to "expose the Hunger Games fans on Twitter who dare call themselves fans yet don't know a [darn] thing about the books."

Collins clearly described them as "dark-skinned," if not specifically black. On page 45, Katniss sees Rue for the first time and describes her this way: "She has dark brown skin and eyes." Later, Katniss meets Thresh, saying that he "has the same dark skin as Rue."

Although these tweeters comprise a small minority, I found this story pretty sad, especially since those expressing their opinions were teens and young adults!  But when life gives you lemons, make lemonade and have fun writing a blog post about it!

If any of those tweeters like Beethoven (yet something tells me that even if they've heard of him, they may not be that familiar with his work), I hope they don’t see this blog post!  However, if they do, here are some examples of what might appear on Twitter from them:

Beethoven, black! I won’t listen to his music anymore!

Now I don’t feel so bad about him going deaf.

Not gonna lie, this really ruins his music for me.

Thanks for visiting with me today, and by the way, is this information about Beethoven something new to you?


Jennifer Hoffine said...

Beethoven a Moor? I had no idea. That would probably set some priggish classical music fans back a few paces.

It is sad how both Beethoven and Hunger Games can reveal people's racist assumptions and feelings.

Maria McKenzie said...

I agree!

Jennette Marie Powell said...

No, I'd never heard that about Beethoven! But when a character in a novel is described as "dark-skinned," I do tend to picture them as black, unless other details suggest otherwise.

Those tweets=facepalm. Just wow.

Maria McKenzie said...

Yeah, I pretty much do the same thing.

Those tweets amazed me!

William Kendall said...

It's certainly news to me about Beethoven. The man's music... everything you really need to know about life was in those notes. He came the closest any human being has ever come to making something perfect.

As to those tweets... it makes you despair, doesn't it?

Maria McKenzie said...

He was brilliant!

About those quotes, I thought we'd come such a long way since the'60s.

Sharon Ricklin said...

I read about those twitter (idiots) back when the movie came out too...
Obviously, they don't know how to read either.

I read the Hunger Games but have not seen the movie yet, but I remember seeing pictures of the cast and thinking that the little girl they'd chosen to play Rue was perfect! Exactly how I pictured her!

Apparently we haven't come as far as we thought since the 60's. It's pretty sad...

I did not know that Beethoven's mother was a Moor, all I knew about him was that he had gone deaf and being amazed that he continued to compose his beautiful music!