Jay-Z, who grew up in the Bed-Stuy projects in Brooklyn, is producing a remake of the poverty-stricken New York fairy tale Annie, with Quvenzhané Wallis, of Beasts of the Southern Wild fame. Quvenzhané Wallis isn’t a producer, she’s Annie. The film is also being produced by Will Smith, whose incredible daughter Willow was previously being considered for the role. This rules. Quvenzhané Wallis is a great actress who is gonna do a great job being a hopeful little orphan. Jamie Foxx plays Daddy Warbucks, only now he’s named “Benjamin Stacks.” Every part of this sounds rad. Get excited, you guys!!
So, yeah, not everyone is going ballistic with hype over this, mainly because they’re butthurt about their favorite obnoxious ginger switching races. This happens basically any time a cast or role that was originally white gets changed over. It’s not always a shitstorm, like we saw last year when The Hunger Games cast a black girl as Rue, A FUCKING BLACK CHARACTER, but there’s always a number of people who get all bent out of shape and make a stink about how nobody would put up with white people playing black characters.
Default race is white. Give me a blank character, and they’re white until I hear otherwise. It’s not cool, and it’s a consequence of a white supremacist culture, but there you have it. However, this also means that the majority of white characters are “default,” or “blank.” They can easily be race-shifted with no ill consequence to the story/art/themes/etc. Race is not a part of their character. They’re white just because every character is white. But for some white people on the internet, whiteness is a character trait. It’s an integral part of a character’s being. I mean, how do you explain people getting mad that Peter Parker, consummate everyman, might not be white?
Dumbasses like to say “Why don’t we just make a white Roots while we’re at it??” and, as Donald Glover describes, wonder what would happen if Shaft was recast as white. Their choices are immediately ridiculous, as both Roots and Shaft are explicitly about black history and experience. In addition, they reveal that they really DO think a character’s whiteness is some indispensable trait — why choose such famously black pieces of media if they aren’t drawing some kind of comparison between the importance of race in Shaft and Spiderman? The thing is though, the less ridiculous examples they could have chosen are often not much better, to the point that I can’t think of any that don’t have the same problem.
A huge proportion of black characters and stories HAVE to be black, because if the default is white, any story NOT specifically about race will be full of white people. A story centered around minorities, bet your bottom dollar, is about how they’re minorities. White people took basically all the stories purely about heartbreak and friendship and whatever. There’s no stories left for them to take from black people, so, this is yet another thing white people complain about that is all their fault.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner/Guess Who is an example of a black story being race-shifted, and kinda explains why you can’t make a black movie white. The original film is about a well-meaning American liberal family being confronted with interracial marriage, worrying about their daughter, being threatened by this black dude, and in the end deciding to live up to their own ideals. On the other hand, the Ashton Kutcher movie is about the same stuff plot-wise, but treating these two situations the same is bullshit because of the huge imbalance in actual discrimination and prejudice. The family in the original is white, and judging a minority, whereas in the remake, Ashton Kutcher faces prejudice from a black family who are suspicious of him basically because of what happened in the original movie (are you noticing a trend with white person race problems?). Comparing the two situations is goofy as balls, which is perhaps why the remake is dumb slapstick instead of comedic drama.
Now that we’ve gone over why it’s not cool for white people to remake black movies, there’s still the question: why remake movies to have a black cast, anyway? Because the originals weren’t made for them. White is the default audience, as well as race. Movies, television, books, and games are, by and large, not made for minorities. Award-winning examples of such media, even less so. Now, it’s fine if you don’t want to see the same movie except with black people, but you already have your white movie about a white dude with glasses saving his town’s beachgoers from a shark. It’ll still be there when someone cool makes the black version.
These remakes and castings increase representation of minorities in the media, which is a lot more important than white people recognize, being themselves fully represented in more than 90% of all movies, ads, tv shows, etc., and having no “opportunity” to understand what it means to be underrepresented. Putting minorities in “normal” roles, or even leads, reduces the “default white” phenomenon, which, as I said, is pretty harmful.
Most people don’t like remakes. I’m generally not a fan, unless there’s a good reason for it. If pushed, I would argue that the industry’s neglect (and often hostility) for minority actors and filmmakers constitutes a mitigating factor when it comes to lame remakes, given that they’re inherently a safer bet than an original property. I’m satisfied, though, just to say that if you’re remaking a movie, there’s probably no reason the lead(s) should stay white.
You know what remake I am a fan of? This fucking Annie remake. To be honest, the consternation on display in some of the comment threads about the movie really invigorated me. And it made me think about a lot! First, Jay-Z knows his shit. This movie is going to have great music, courtesy (okay, probably not courtesy) the man himself. He grew up in the projects, and will undoubtedly bring some great texture and subtext to the film along with the score.
Second, Quvenzhané Wallis is basically an angel and at least twice as cute as Aileen Quinn.
Third, Benjamin Stacks. This is the best. I can hear the whining already about how Daddy Warbucks got ghetto-fied, which is at once delicious and gives me the opportunity to point out that Daddy Warbucks is named for his war profiteering during WWI, so who’s really contributing to moral decay, here? I’m also pumped to see Jamie Foxx being a kind-hearted politician.
Fourth, this remake does have a good reason. It’s a story about poverty and lost children and the spirit of humanity! These are timeless themes, but also issues that persist to this day. It’s important to keep this stuff in view. Foster care, group homes, orphanages and the like are still around, and many of these systems are dysfunctional as all hell. Annie is a movie all about this stuff! That’s a really good thing. I mean, the last movie I saw about orphans was Orphan, and that sure didn’t make me want to adopt an orphan. The people producing this movie are definitely, definitely aware of the issues here, and they are going to take the opportunity to make something important. Annie as a character represents the children in these institutions; she can be black without changing the meaning of the story. She does not represent white orphans, and if she does, then fuck that and yay for black Annie!
Annie is slated for release next holiday season. I know, that’s a long time from now. But hey, cheer up, kid! Take it a day at a time, and it’ll be here before you know it.