This topic is one I approach with hesitance, since I’m stepping into the middle of a heated battle. Upon the release of the new Annie trailer, IMDb, Twitter and other sites blew up with complaints about Annie being African American in the new iteration, which has been met with others claiming it’s racist to be bothered by the change. Dare it be said, both sides are missing a few points.
Personally, I don’t care about the race of the new Annie. Cameron Diaz as the lead of an orphanage in Harlem, plus her crummy acting, struck me as more off than anything, but I digress. The point is the film would be getting negative critiques off the bat for being a remake, the race of Annie aside. Yes, some commenters on those pages are actually racist. It’s an unfortunate element of humanity. Others are purists who view the old Annie as a classic and do not want to see any changes, period. They wouldn’t want a remake to begin with. Bringing in another region and culture makes it not look like Annie to them, and they hate all changes regardless of what they are. I’m probably being a bit too generous by offering that much of a defense to them.
Are there times when it’s a poor or even inappropriate decision to change a character’s race or heritage? I’d argue yes. I don’t care to see a white Shaft, because culture is such a huge element of that film. If Morpheus in The Matrix was made Chinese, it wouldn’t matter. For all I care, Neo could’ve been Pakistani. Character background and heritage played no role whatsoever in that whole movie. It does, however strike me as off to have someone who doesn’t appear Norwegian to play Heimdall in Thor, since it’s a Norse character, though it doesn’t offend me. I also found it odd Johnny Depp played Tonto in The Lone Ranger. Come on, Disney!
Now for the big one – Annie. No, her race isn’t essential to the story. Changing her heritage and the region does change the story, and that upsets the purists and the racists, but it’s actually a good choice. I, for one, didn’t think Annie needed a remake. The switch-ups work for me because I don’t want to see the exact same movie made again. It at least brings some new dynamics into the story. Jamie Foxx is a cool choice for Benjamin Stacks. To toss the potentially non-racists who don’t like Annie’s new race a bone, a white Annie being rescued from poverty by Jamie Foxx would be a fun move. The genuine racists would be so upset to see a little white girl saved by a person of color!