'Hunger Games' casts unknowns Amandla Stenberg and Dayo Okeniyi: Why this is a smart strategy.


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Shout it from the Capitol, Hunger Games fans, because here’s some casting news we can all get behind. (Caution, for non-HG fanatics, some SPOILERS ahead.) When EW exclusively announced today that Lionsgate had cast its District 11 members Thresh and Rue with Hollywood newcomers Dayo Okeniyi and Amandla Stenberg, respectively, the consensus amongst fans was that of both delight and relief. Here are two actors that not only closely resemble how they were described in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novels, but ones that also aren’t bringing any extra baggage into the arena.

After all, The Hunger Games casting thus far has been a point of contention for many fans. For every excited Jennifer Lawrence supporter, there was one (or more) who thought the title of heroine Katniss Everdeen belonged to Hailee Steinfeld, while Hunter Parrish fans are still scratching their heads over how Josh Hutcherson’s name was called instead for the part of Peeta Mellark.

Granted, Lawrence and Hutcherson aren’t marquee stars (yet), but the Hunger Games films won’t exactly be their breakout parts (Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right will get credit for that). But if the fresh-faced Okeniyi and Stenberg nail their parts as the strong Thresh and the young Rue, the industry will watch two stars born right before their very eyes. Not to mention the fact that this strategy of casting relative unknowns most certainly worked for the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises.

There’s also the advantage of not having an idea or image in the audience’s head of what these characters will look and sound like on-screen. We’ve seen Lawrence looking bleak and exhausted before on-screen, as well as fancied-up off-screen (though we can’t imagine she’d wear one of Cinna’s creations on a red carpet), so there’s a certain stigma already attached to the Katniss we had in our heads while read the books to that of the new new, movie version of her.

Certain Hunger Games stars have already become tabloid fixtures, which is bound to give some moviegoers a certain preconceived notions about them, long before filming even starts. Hutcherson could send certain females into the arms of Gale Hawthorne, since he’s been spotted out and about with Vanessa Hudgens, while Liam Hemsworth (i.e. Gale Hawthorne) will no doubt rub some folks the wrong way because of his personal life (it’s Miley!). Okeniyi has never been snapped by the paps, and as far as Hunger Games fans are concerned, the only lady whose welfare he is concerned about is his Games partner, Stenberg.

It seems a huge number of EW.com readers were relieved that singer/actress/hair whipper Willow Smith, who was one of the names rumored to snag the role of Rue, did not get the part. I count myself among those glad it’s not Smith, as it would have been increasingly difficult to cheer on the young Hunger Games contestant who got her catchy, yet tremendously repetitive song stuck in my head for weeks. Stenberg, on the other hand, has done no such crime. I’d also hate to think of a scenario in which audiences were happy to see what fate befalls poor, sweet, innocent Rue.

I can’t wait to see how the rest of The Hunger Games casting pans out, but, much like life in Panem, it’s best to expect the unexpected.

What do you think of the latest Hunger Games casting move, PopWatchers? Are you excited to see what Dayo Okeniyi and Amandla Stenberg can do, or were you actually hoping for more well-known stars to get called in the Reaping?

Read more:
‘Hunger Games’ Central
Team ‘Hunger Games’ talks: Suzanne Collins and Gary Ross talk adaptation
‘The Hunger Games’: Meet the Cast

Comments (72 total) Add your comment
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  • Don’t Fight

    I thought they’d go with Latino actors honestly. Isn’t that district the food harvesting one?

    • cheri

      It is, but they are described as being dark skinned and Collins has confirmed they are black.
      Or are you being a smart @ss? It does not always translate in comments.

      • Ms. Chanandler Bong

        um, Latinos can have dark skin…

      • Jess

        I think district 11 was coded to be similar to antebellum plantations. But I bet there was a large latino population in 11 too.

      • katie

        I believe they are described as having skin the color of chocolate, so I think it’s pretty clear they are black. Suzanne Collins has confirmed that as well. I am sure they will have a diverse cast of tributes though.

    • Myra

      Who will they cast as buttercup?
      a) a very old geriatric cat that is also a great actor because after all in movies and tv old cats always play kittens.
      b) a red or black cat with acting experience and awards nominations because after all color is not important they will dye its hair and acting is more important. Plus it’s impossible to cast a yellow cat that also has acting talent.
      c) a black old cat that became famous not because his acting but its singing but had a 5 minute role in a movie and gary ross liked his acting.
      d) Cate blanchet! She is an oscar winner actress and because of that she can pull off anything. If you don’t think she is the right one watch all of her previous movies. She even played BOB DYLAN!
      e) a yellow mashed-in nose,half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squad.
      f) a squirrel or a dog because there is one thing called makeup and there’s also Hollywood magic.
      G)None of the above they will just cut out Buttercup because he is a minor role.

  • cheri

    I am happy. Thresh is such a small, but important role. He just needs to be strong and quiet. The girl is perfect looks wise for Rue. Exactly how I pictured her.

    • mwa

      totally agree! finally something i’m happy about with the casting

      • ba’al

        Me too

    • jill

      Me too – this works – now if they’d just let us know who is going to be Haymitch!

    • Strepsi

      Like this girl — her eyes look wistful even in her headshot.

      And Rue is all about the big dark eyes, and the small little arm reaching out from the tree….. *sniffle* *sob*

  • t.t

    perfect casting!

  • texo

    Great casting – But enough about the Jennifer Lawrence casting being a point of contention. Hailee Steinfeld is *way* to young to ever have played Katniss. And anyone still in doubt about JL should see “Winter’s Bone” – her performance there shows why she will be an awesome Katniss!

    • Zane

      I don’t think Hailee is too young. It takes months to shoot movies, and more months the edit them together. JL will make a good Katniss, but some of the other actors will need to be replaced or they will look like the kids’ parents by the time they make “Mockingjay.”

      • Carrie

        The movie is going to be released next March. Hailee’s not going to age that much in the meantime…

      • Troy Soldier

        At this age, she probably will have a major growth spurt. Watch the old “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Anthony Michael Hall is about 6 inches taller at the end of the movie than he is at the beginning.

      • Jeff

        There are only a few characters that are in the next book..so I don’t think age will be a problem. Anyway, the second book is a year later than the first.

      • Nikk

        and shooting starts in may/june…

    • Carrie

      Totally agree. I was a little uncertain about Jennifer Lawrence until I saw Winter’s Bone. It actually only took me the first few scenes, with JL’s character scrounging for food in the kitchen to feed her siblings. Very similar to the beginning of Hunger Games with Katniss getting food for her mom and Prim. Winter’s Bone’s Ree and Katniss have a lot in common; JL hit it out of the park with Ree so I am confident she will do just as well with Katniss.

    • Myra

      Jennifer Lawrence point of contention? Yes she looks old to the part and yes a woman like her in romantic scenes with the Peeta they chose seems weird but I guess her performance on Winter’s bone and her Oscar nomination validate that she was casted.

      But what is the validation of choices like Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam as Gale? They claim they had a great audition but they seem the best out of very limited options. Not like they really search for the right actors. Josh movies before the kids are alright are mediocre at best and his performance in those movies was forgettable. I don’t understand why they speak of his acting abilities so much .He’s not a bad actor but he is not that great either.
      Even worse, no matter how much they dye his hair, or how much he would manage to work out before the film. He doesn’t look like a romantic lead , he looks more suited for comedy or for the upcoming “The hobbit” movie than a romantic lead in an epic movie .All the airbrush pictures that portray him with blond hair makes him look creepy and his body needs training.

      And Liam’s an odd choice. He has received nothing but criticism before and pair him up with an Oscar nominee actress and make him Hutcherson’s love rival. Not at all a good combination for the three leads.

      I wish the movie makers had taken the newcomers approach for the male roles. They had already an Oscar nominee playing Katniss they could’ve surrounded the newcomers with British acting royalty or more Oscar nominees or Oscar winners (like in HP). It couldn’t have hurt having a little bit of eye candy too. The fact that some people still mention their Hunter Parish preference proves how poor choices we have since the beginning. Seriously? Lucas till? Alec Ludwing? Hunter Parish wasn’t up to the role either. Couldn’t have they extended their search beyond young Hollywood and find the next newcomer whose name would always be attached to the franchise? Someone who would act and have the looks?

      Thresh and rue casting news brought nothing but joy to the fans. Too bad we couldn’t have had something like that with the three main characters.

  • Kaycee

    I’m so happy with this casting!!
    Maybe it will shut up the people complaining about the popularity of the other cast members as well.

  • Jay

    “Willow Smith, who was one of the names rumored to snag the role of Rue” should be read as: Willow Smith, a name that some EW staffer offered up as a casting suggestion in the same ridiculous slide show that suggested Taylor Lautner for Thresh.

    • LMFAO

      HA! That’s right. So glad someone brought that up.

    • katie

      LOL – hilarious. Can you imagine Taylor Lautner as Thresh? Nuts.

    • Strepsi

      Willow Smith was disqualified from the Hunger Games as the Gamesmaster considered HAIR WHIPS to be an illegal weapon.

    • Nikk

      oh come on willow is not so bad a pick guys. leave a TEN YEAR OLD ALONE! (but the illegal hair whips was funny ha) now the idiot who picked taylor lautner….

  • Jen

    Is it just me, but don’t all the older actors look WAY TOO OLD for the roles? I know the books span several years but no way do these actors look remotely close to 20 let alone 16. Also interesting that the article doesn’t really mention the huge uproar that the actors don’t follow the racial characteristics of their characters.

    • jerby

      I know, thats driving me crazy too. I’m kind of okay w/ it for thresh because he’s supposed to be big and older looking. but I’d really like the rest to look like teenagers.

    • Gabe

      I’m not sure what book you were reading, but Rue and Thresh were definitely described as dark-skinned and Collins has stated they are black.

      • kk

        You’re right Gabe…it’s clear that Rue and Thresh are black. I think Jen *might* be referring to some people thinking Katniss/Gale/The Seam are biracial. Newsflash people – having “olive skin” does not mean you are biracial. It just means you don’t have pale skin. The whole whitewashing argument is absurd.

    • Nikk

      racial characteristics?? what do you mean? they were SUPPOSED to be black..wha wha-just cut the craziness. there is so much more i could say but im gonna keep calm.

      • Nikk

        by black i mean rue and thresh not the main characters who are supposed to be white

  • Allie

    Are you seriously suggesting that because josh has been seen hanging around with vanessa hudgens that team peeta fans will become team gale??? Is vanessa that much of a hate figure. I would think fans of the book have more intelligence than that.

    And while josh looks nothing like peeta should, his personality comes across peeta like. Likeable, self-deprecating.

    • Krystal

      What I don’t get about this article is how they are saying because of their personal life their acting will be judged. I don’t think one should have anything to do with the other sometimes. Especially when it comes down to who they’re dating.

    • Myra

      Josh personality is likeable and nice but Peeta is not just likeable and nice. He is supposed to have a strong side too and be able to stir passion in Katniss. Josh personality is soft and Peeta is not soft, would he really look like a girl (woman) like Jennifer’s Katniss will pull out berries and therefore starts a rebellion? How he will make believable the cave scenes? Maybe if they had chosen a younger looking katniss he will look a little better. And his body needs training and they are about to start filming. He won’t build up on time.

  • Shh

    One casting that doesn’t suck. Good

    • julia

      bahaha I know right, I’m actually really excited for these too

  • Ian

    Well, I’m glad the castings are racially accurate. Anyone who isn’t black and is excited for the films has generally not really cared about any ethnic integrity for these characters, and it’s disgusting. I’m relieved, though I suspect it still needs to be explained to Hollywood that “cute” comes in all shades, and black female actresses don’t have to be as light as possible. I’m sure Amandla will be fine tho.

    • katie

      What are you talking about?

      • bay

        the girl is a little light for some dark hair. that’s wat ian means. but it could be the lighting in the picture. anyhow no matter. she’s gonna do great

    • Nikk

      i agree hollywood tends to forget that beautiful and cute comes in all shades. and that not all black ppl are the same…

  • Daniel

    As happy as I am with these two, I’m really stoked to see who’s cast for Clove and Cato. Those are two make-it or break-it roles, at least for me. Finding young actors who can portray that level of evil/ mild insanity must be tricky and I anticipate the results.

    • L

      I think Haymitch is even more important. I can’t wait for Haymitch. I can’t get an idea of the movie as a whole until I know who will cast for Haymitch!

      • katie

        Super psyched about Haymitch too – I hope he is cast soon. And news tonight is that Elizabeth Banks was offered Effie, so that may come soon as well. I think everyone wants Chenoweth, but Banks is a decent second choice.

      • fireflyfan

        chenowith would be absolutely awesome for that role! I can see that perfectly

  • Nicole

    Fantastic casting, I’m in love with Amandla already. And Dayo looks silent but deadly, it’s perfect.

  • katie

    Psyched about them! Rue looks perfect, and I’m also glad it wasn’t Willow Smith. Seriously, there are more young African American actors/actresses out there than Will Smith’s kids.

    He looks great for Thresh too – looks strong and like he can play menacing, but like he can also show kindness.

    I am glad they went for unknowns, and I can’t wait to hear more casting news.

  • Erina

    How old is Dayo? He looks great for the role, but I can’t find his birthday anywhere! I’m glad that casting is finally getting going, with filming around the corner, and less than a year until the release, I can’t help but feel like we’re behind!

    • E-bobber

      I’m pretty sure he is in his early 20s… I think 22. And just so people know exactly how to pronounce his name: die-yo (not day-o) oh-kin-nee-yee

      • Nikk

        yea day-o is a song. (die-yo) is his name lol

  • The Hunger Games Blog

    We think they’re so well cast for the movie! Rue seems perfectly matched especially. Love that they are using relative unknowns too!

    • charlotte clark

      Yes! Amandla is perfect for the part!

    • charlotte clark

      yes, me too, tired of seeing the same ol’ people on t.v.,a nd sometimes, depending on who it is, the theater also : )

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