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

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'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

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