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Modernizing and Racebending Annie is a Great Idea
By Kate Hickey
We all know the "Tomorrow" song. There’s a dog. The themes of family and positivity. That’s what everyone loves so much about Annie: the ceaseless optimism of children, people who haven’t been beaten down by the world into borderline-religious cynicism. Annie is the little girl that reminds everyone that even with all the hurt in the world, there is always a reason to smile and have hope.
This adaptation looks like it’s going to be perfect. With stars Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, and Quvenzhané Wallis as the titular Annie, the casting of this movie looks exciting, dynamic, and diverse.
Actually, hold on, let’s talk about Quvenzhané Wallis for a moment. Did you know she’s the youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Award? She was nominated in 2013 for Beasts of the Southern Wild at age nine. That means that this girl is probably the best little girl in the business to play Annie! Wouldn’t you agree?
So, if that’s true, then why is there so much backlash and negativity surrounding this production of Annie?
Hm. I’m betting it’s because they’ve turned sweet, freckly, ginger, white Annie black.
As a matter of fact, I’m not even betting. I know it’s true. Here are some of the comments on the YouTube video of the trailer for this movie:
And you may think to yourself, Well, why AREN’T they keeping Annie white, if that’s how it was originally?
Well, the original Annie is set in the 1930s, in the midst of the Depression and after a substantial wave of Irish immigration. Now, America has a history of hating its most recent group of immigrants and discriminating against them more harshly than in the last round. Think of Japanese internment camps during World War II and “Go Back To Mexico” signs that are in the news today. In the 1930s, the discrimination against the Irish was intense and unjust. Irish immigrants were kept from jobs and adequate housing opportunities, which resulted in them living in tenement houses, which were really uncomfortable and really gross. By giving Annie ginger hair, the original writers gave her a quality associated with Irishness. Therefore, there would be a social bias against the little girl for her hair and her heritage.
If you want to bring Annie into the 21st century as a modern adaptation, and still remain true to the heart and soul of the original work, you wouldn’t cast a little redheaded white girl. And I’m saying this as a redheaded white girl. If you’re going to make Annie modern, you have to bring the prejudices and the difficulties Annie faces with her, because that’s what makes her optimism and attitude so astonishing, so lovable, and so sympathetic. Luckily for redheaded white girls like me, those prejudices or difficulties aren’t stacked against us anymore. They wouldn’t be for that version of Annie today either.
Today, 37 percent of adopted children are white, and only 23 percent of adopted children are black. Now, while 56 percent of children in the orphanage system are white and only 14 percent are black, there is still a higher ratio of white adoption over black adoption. It’s more likely that a pre-teen black girl in modern times would still be in the orphanage system than a pre-teen white girl.
To put it simply, without the boring statistics section, it’s truer to the ideals and political statement of the original material to race-bend Annie from white to black. The discrimination Annie would have faced as an Irish girl in the 1930s is analogous to the type of discrimination young black girls face today. Even the hair--specifically the hair!—works as an example of why race-bending makes sense. Annie’s bright red hair in the 1930s was an indicator that she was Irish and therefore could be treated as lesser by the community at large. Recently, the military banned black women from having natural hair and hairstyles, including twists, dreadlocks, and naturally grown hair. You heard me: Black women in the military aren’t allowed to have naturally grown hair.
In this Annie, Quvenzhané Wallis has a big head of natural, black-girl hair. And it looks great. Want to know what else is great about this movie? There’s no chance it’ll have white savior undertones, because they also recast originally-white Oliver Warbucks as now-black William Stacks with Jamie Foxx, the Academy Award winner for the film Ray (2004). It’s become a story of a successful black man taking on the role of fatherhood without any of the usual racial prejudice.
You might think then, by keeping Miss Hannigan as white (Cameron Diaz), that somehow this version of Annie has become “reverse racist.” I’m here to assure you that it hasn’t for two big reasons. The first reason is because reverse racism is impossible. The more significant reason is because Grace Farrell, Warbucks/Stacks’s assistant, is still white, still kind, and still the mother figure of the show. Along with that, several of the orphans at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage are white and are just as sympathetic as Annie.
This is a movie that equitably addresses race and cultural change while still remaining true to the source material. And that is my final reason for why this adaptation of Annie is going to be amazing: The true test of a good story is when you change the details but the core remains the same. This movie is proof that Annie will stand the test of time. Because it works, both as a little redheaded white girl in the 1930s and a big-haired black girl in the 21st century. Annie’s heart is too big to be contained to one type of little girl. Now not only little white girls can watch Annie and see themselves. Now, with more than one type of Annie, other little girls are represented. That’s a beautiful thing. That is a phenomenal thing.
I can’t urge you enough to go see Annie when it hits theaters. Take your kids, take your friends, and take your parents! I know I’m going to see it at least twice. Produced by Jay-Z and Will Smith, directed by Will Gluck, Annie will be in theaters on Christmas Day this year.
#Real #Movies #Film #Annie #Feminism #Racism #Hair #AdaptedStories #StoryAdaptation #AdoptionStories #Orphanages
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