Welcome to the "Hard-Knock Life" edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking news stories on a scale of one to RACIST, with “one” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.
–Like millions of people around the world, I can't wait for the new Annie movie that's hitting theaters this year. The new film takes the Depression-era character into modern times, dropping the titular plucky orphan into post-Bloomberg, gentrified Manhattan. The above trailer promises singing, dancing, lavish production design, gratuitous helicopter shots of New York, balloons, Cameron Diaz trying to make herself look broke, and a lot of Black people. Yeah, Annie's Black now. I guess I buried the lead on that, eh?
The film stars famous Black people like Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje—or, as my White friends call him, "Ummmmmmmmmmm."
As soon as the trailer hit YouTube, I got a bunch of texts from my friends in the Race-Baiting Black Writers' Club—not to be confused with the Babysitters Club or the Boxcar Children—alerting me to the impending hatestravaganza that was about to rain down on the internet.
On cue, a new front in the tedious dick-measuring contest known as the "culture war" opened up right next door to Miss Hannigan's orphanage. The questions raised ranged from "Why is Annie Black?" to "Why is Annie not a redhead?" This same fruitless argument slithers up to the surface whenever the film industry casts a minority actor in a traditionally White role, or vice versa. Michael B. Jordan, cast as the Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four remake, was criticized for playing a white character. Rooney Mara is playing a First Nations character in a remake of Peter Pan, and people are up in arms about that too. This is all after Will Smith played a white cowboy named Jim West, and Eddie Murphy played the Nutty Professor. And don't forget M. Night Shyamalan basically wrote the book (and the screenplay adaptation of the book) on how to change a character's race and annoy everyone.
This happens all the time now, because it's one of the most dependable gimmicks the film industry has at its disposal. The one thing that all of the above examples have in common is that the movies in question were remakes or adaptations of existing source material. Sure, you've seen Sherlock Holmes a million times, but what if he was Black? Might that interest you? Could a gay James Bond convince an otherwise untapped market to see a movie featuring that character? If you think Hollywood is above that, then you've never heard of Zorro, the Gay Blade. If the words "gay Zorro swordfighting" don't immediately have you reaching for your wallet, then I have no idea what will.
The studios are doing this precisely because they know they will get a reaction from both the people who identify with the race of the actor and the people who are irritated their favorite character's race changed. The avalanche of think pieces, tweets, morning news segments, and racially focused news-aggregator columns is just the kind of free press that sells tickets. A musical with a predominantly Black cast about an orphan is unlikely to get made, but call that orphan "Annie," and the nation is forced to take notice.
Hollywood is trolling everyone, and it's working. There's hardly anyone online writing about how moviegoers are being fed yet another version of a one-dimensional comic-strip character, since everyone's distracted by the lead actor's race. I've written this and giving this movie yet more free press, and for that I apologize. I'm sorry, Earth. I messed up and gave in to the pressure to "weigh in on a hot topic." I'm obviously not mad about this casting, but I'm not throwing a ticker-tape parade either. Let's move on to something that matters, eh? I give the casting of Annie a 1, but the reaction a RACIST.
Before we move on, I just want to say that if you remake the Cash Money Millionaires movie, Baller Blockin', and recast Lil Wayne as a White guy, I'll be pissed.
Photo via Flickr User Gage Skidmore
–Back in the real world, Black orphans (and White orphans… and Hispanic orphans… and Asian orphans) aren't nearly as charming as Annie and certainly aren't as prone to bust out a tune at the drop of a hat. While mass culture turns poverty into a musical number, American politicians are grappling with the growing number of people here who can't afford basic life necessities. Congressman Paul Ryan has made fighting poverty his new raison d'être after severe budget cuts, his refusal to raise the debt ceiling, and entitlement reform all ended up making him look like a regular ol' Scrooge McDick. He said the following to Bill Bennett on his Morning in America radio show:
We want people to reach their potential, and so the dignity of work is very valuable and important and we have to re-emphasize work and reform our welfare programs, like we did in 1996. We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.
Jamelle Bouie of the Daily Beast took Congressman Ryan to task for laying the blame for inner-city poverty solely at the feet of a perceived cultural deficiency. Not only is Ryan's idea of the root cause of economic malaise myopic; as Bouie points out, it's also beside the point. If there are no jobs, even motivated people won't be able to work. If those people can't get jobs, then what hope do disadvantaged inner-city citizens have?
We live in a culture where fictional characters like Annie are plucked out of poverty and given everything just for being cute. There's no way around that. Simultaneously, our society is full of people tweeting disparaging comments about an actor because of his or her race. There are systemic barriers to self-esteem and success for minorities that Paul Ryan and others of his ilk have to address. Of course, Paul Ryan could just be trolling us too. 5
The Stupidest Tweets About the Annie Remake:
They made Annie (the white ginger) into a curly haired nigger!!
— Shit Matt Says (@MattHatcherSaid) March 12, 2014
I'm not racist, but I have a SERIOUS question. They're remaking Annie and making her black. Annie's signature thing is her red hair..
— THE Country Princess (@countryhotmess) December 9, 2013
They're making a new lil orphan Annie, and here's the twist.. she's black.. Not racist.. But FUCK NO! FUCK! NO!
— Wyatt McMinn (@WyattMcMinn) March 13, 2014
not to be racist, but i thought that Annie wasn't black. she is white and red headed.
— Thropp (@chomsky_yuwono) March 13, 2014
They're making a new Annie but this time Annie is a young black girl. I'm no racist, but I don't know about this……….
— Haydn #nice (@haydnbow) March 12, 2014
So there remaking Annie and she's black #shehadredhair
— Andrew Erickson (@AndyEricks) March 12, 2014
But yeah. Filming black Annie's life is akin to filming white Tupac's death. Okay, America.
— Trillibuster (@WontonTweets) March 12, 2014
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