The movie, “Annie,” has been remade and the cast includes a young black girl as the star. Quvenzhané Wallis, a ten-year old black actress is Annie. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Hushpuppy in the 2012 movie, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” when she was only 8 years old. If you have never seen that movie please watch it. Wallis’s performance is brilliant, moving and powerful, as a child living in poverty and chaos with her hot tempered and ill father.
The new Annie brings a fresh approach to the original movie and Broadway musical. I celebrate the choice of Quvenzhané Wallis for the leading role. She will be wonderful.
Not everyone is happy about this, however, and rude critics have shown up on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere. Some really vicious things have been said about this child actor.
Racism still exists in this country and, sadly, always will, I suppose. It is expressed in people who are terrified of change and feel as though they are somehow losing their white identity if blacks or other minorities are given equal opportunities.
The evolution of life is a wonderful thing if only we are willing to embrace it. Change is not something to fear but to celebrate. To fear other people; to fear growing beyond old prejudices; to fail to adapt in a very diverse country like ours, is to live in mediocrity, suspicion, paranoia, and in some stultifying ongoing panic. People who live like this are dangerously vulnerable to acts of hatred and violence.
There is that great passage in Harper Lee’s radiant and courageous novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” where Atticus, an attorney defending a black man in the deep South, wants his children to have big minds and open hearts. He wants them to love and respect all people. The trial of the black man though is creating serious tension in the town and people are starting to judge and hate Atticus. His young daughter Scout is sensitive to all of this. One day during the trial Atticus sits down with her and says, “As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
That is a lesson lost on many of us still to this day. I’m not interested at this point in hearing about all of the black crime everywhere. As a White man I am ashamed of what my people have done throughout American history to humiliate, bully, enslave, limit, and bitterly, cruelly, violently brutalize African Americans in this country. We are trash when we do this whatever period of history we are in including this one.
Annie is a fictional character. She happened to be imagined as a little mischievous, gleeful, freckle-faced red headed wonder in the original comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie,” created by Harold Gray in 1924. She is not limited to a particular race. Like all fictional characters she carries a universal persona and belongs to all children. There are Annies in countries all over the world. There are aspects of her in all little girls.
To criticize a black child for being cast as Annie shows not only a remarkable lack of intelligence and culture, it fails to recognize and respect the full strength and grace of her humanity.
Comedian and actor Dennis Leary once famously said, “Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a 2-year-old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”
Perhaps a day will come when, with the innocence of children, we move beyond any sense of racism and see that a person’s difference from us is something we can learn from, even something we can admire and revere.
I look forward to seeing “Annie” and watching the breathtakingly talented Quvenzhané Wallis sing and dance and act her way into the changes of our day, changes I fully welcome and embrace, for her and for all of us.
© 2014 Timothy Moody