Quvenzhane Wallis to Star as Annie! Is this a Hollywood Trend or a Permanent Solution?

The young and adorable Quvenzhane Wallis is slated to play Annie alongside Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz in the upcoming remake of the cult classic. Last year, Quvenzhane gained international recognition after her portrayal as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild, which led to an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She is the youngest person to ever be nominated.

She also played alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave. Oh, and she’s only 10. Quvenzhane took the throne once held by Abigail Breslin and Dakota Fanning. Quvenzhane is not only young and sweet, but she’s also very talented and dedicated to the craft. During her professional and personal journeys, I hope and pray that she continues to excel and inspire the next generation of young leaders.

A cultural staple and heartwarming story, Annie is a tale about a poor mistreated orphan who eventually gets adopted by the rich and powerful Daddy Warbucks. A feel-good story, Annie is a legend of sorts. The title character is typically played by a young, white, red-headed girl. Aileen Quinn played the orphan in the 1982 adaption, and Alicia Morton followed up in 1992. For many, the red hair and freckles are a staple for the character.

Remarkably, there hasn’t been protest against Quvenzhane’s casting, and I hope it stays that way. Creativity and interpretation are the pinnacle of effective entertainment. I can’t wait to see what Quvenzhane brings to the role.

I raise the point of backlash because of the controversy surrounding Michael B. Jordan’s casting as the Human Torch in the revamped Fantastic Four series. The star of the critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station was the subject of harsh attacks from the comic book fans and opportunistic racists. But of course he brushed it off with this suave response:

What’s going on in Hollywood?! Do entertainment moguls finally realize that Black actors can carry white roles? Do they finally understand that people won’t run and hide if they see a Black person on the silver screen? Did they finally recognize that the Black demographic deserves representation? Whatever their reasons for promoting more Black actors….I’m rejoicing.

Like many, when I watched Lupita Nyong’o win her well deserved Oscar, I was overwhelmed in emotion. A tear may have trickled from the corner of my eye. I still can’t capture what I was feeling in that moment; pride? camaraderie? justice? redemption? RELIEF?!

I was relieved that a women I could identify with was standing before an audience of millions, speaking a warm truth that crept from the passions of her soul. In that moment, I saw me. I saw possibility. I saw opportunity.

I was empowered.

I hazard a guess that Hollywood’s motives aren’t entirely pure; that the empowered underpinnings of social justice do little to influence their casting decisions. But I do believe there’s a wave in Hollywood that understands (or is starting to understand) the complexity of the American socioeconomic space. I credit President Obama. As an irrefutable truth that Black people are productive enough to run the greatest superpower on Earth, corporate entities are taking note that the Black community is a sizable force that should be encouraged, empowered, and reckoned with.

But are these new realizations just a trend? Is it a fad? Are Quvenzhane, Lupita, and Michael momentary outliers to the frightening commonality of colorism, prejudice, and discrimination? I don’t have the answers to this question, and honestly, these three are the only ones who do. They alone know what their ultimate career goals are. They alone have their professional trajectories mapped, and it’s up to them to execute their plans.

On the consumer end… we need to consume. We need to continue to support these talented actors and others like them if we hope to continue this path. Everything is precarious right now. Nothing is concrete, established, and set in stone. As consumers, we have to ensure that our icons are profitable enough to stay in their industries.

So, if you have $15 to spend, go see Quvenzhane rock it in a role that historically does not belong to her.

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7 responses to “Quvenzhane Wallis to Star as Annie! Is this a Hollywood Trend or a Permanent Solution?

  1. Gahhh why Annie? The most saccharine of the musicals? Also how many times can they remake this movie? Aren’t people tired of it?

    Believe me when I say that Quvenzhane can only be an improvement over the previous Annies, but I feel like the role comes with all kinds of racial baggage what with 1930s New York and all. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have the role on principle, just that all actors are given parts based on their physical appearance because movies are a visual medium–you wouldn’t have a white guy play Seaweed Stubbs in Hairspray or–well, they did have white people and Rita Moreno play Asians in The King and I but that was the fifties, I am sure they would make more of an effort if they remade it today. 😦 But it’s like having a non-Asian actress play the lead in Miss Saigon. A young black girl in 1930s New York WOULD be treated very differently than a young white girl and I kind of feel like to say she wouldn’t is sort of sterilizing history.

    Although on the other hand, Queen Latifah played Matron Mama Morton in 2002’s Chicago, which was also anachronistic, but the only complaint I heard was that she only had one song. However, Chicago is much darker than Annie. Also the powers that be might not’ve cared as much about associating a black actress with an original musical adaptation like Chicago than they would about one that so many people know and love and get all nostalgic and defensive about, like Annie. *shrug* Nobody gets nostalgic about the Chicago movie–although it was very good.

    The Into the Woods adaptation is coming out at Christmas, they should’ve cast Quvenzhane as Little Red. Into the Woods has only been on the stage until now and never on the screen, and Little Red was originally played by a white female–young adult instead of child for practical reasons. But there’s really no reason for Little Red Riding Hood to be white, so why not? It’s too late now, but it would’ve set an awesome precedent. Since the success of Les Miserables there are going to be many more musical films in the next few years and I hope Q DOES rock the role so they start casting for talent instead of just big names. If they’d considered casting Heather Headley over Anne Hathaway in Les Mis it might’ve been a very different movie. Brandy and Whitney Houston were in Cinderella some years ago and nobody got shot. They’re probably going to adapt Wicked soon–the lead role, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, has GREEN skin. Her original actress, Idina Menzel, has aged out of the part. They could cast anyone.

    Anyway, judging by the trailer, Quvenzhane Wallis will indeed be a huge improvement over her predecessors. If only she could star with Carol Burnett’s Miss Hannigan because Cameron Diaz is just annoying me.

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    • That’s a very interesting thought, having Quvenzhane play Little Red Riding Hood. I think she would bring a fresh of breath air, while maintaining the level of cute innocence such a role requires. But without a doubt, Annie is an important role for her to have in her portfolio.

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  2. To get this out of the way, I am not a fan of Annie. Maybe it’s because I don’t like musicals…but I will support this film because I want more representation of black people.

    From TV to movies, we are seeing more representation of black folks. It feels good to finally have someone who looks like me on screen. Despite some problematic elements from a certain TV show *coughBeingMaryJanecough*, it is a start to something.

    But are these new realizations just a trend? Is it a fad? Are Quvenzhane, Lupita, and Michael momentary outliers to the frightening commonality of colorism, prejudice, and discrimination?

    The optimistic side of me wants to believe this is not a trend. Hollywood executives finally understand that black people in positive roles will make them money. That showing the same old narrative of the white lead is stale and does not reflect the whole American population. Just maybe, like we have seen in late 2013 to early 2014, we will continue to see blacks and may other POC in roles not normally seen before.

    However, the pessimistic side of me believes this is nothing more than a fad. Hollywood will use these talented actors and throw them away when they are done pleasing the “whining” black community. Then they will go back to using the white leads to sell their product.

    This reminds me of what Alfre Woodard said about Lupita. “We will see if, another brilliant young woman we saw, Jennifer Lawrence, we’ll see the trajectory of her path what she’s offered after that. Then we’ll know whether things have changed or if Lupita is consigned to playing second banana, ensemble person for the next ten years.”

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    • We definitely need to support our Black actors as they make strides against the status quo. All I can say is that I’ll keep faith that Hollywood is headed in the right direction. There are some truths that just can’t be denied; the fact that the world is globalizing and diversifying is one of them. Another truth, Black audiences and other people of color want to see themselves represented in the mainstream. Otherwise, we’ll continue to voice our concerns over the lack of diversity in the entertainment medium. It’s a long road, but one I don’t mind traveling.

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