Shawn Carter and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith decided a few years back to remake the classic, “Annie”. When the movie was released in December of 2014, there were noticeable changes, but none more noticeable than who was portraying the title character. The character, Annie, had come to be recognized as a freckle-faced, red- headed Caucasian girl, and yet in the contemporary version Annie is played by Quvenzhane Wallis, who happens to be a brown skinned, brown-haired girl. Anger over this change in appearance of the title character has followed the movie since its release. People have taken to Twitter to voice their frustrations making such disparaging comments as, “Annie was a freckled face redhead, not a nappy head parasite infected #nigger shitbag! #niggers ruin everything!! @Bum_Farto.” Or “I’m not racist. ANNIE IS NOT BLACK. She is a cute little white girl with curly red hair. She does not have an afro.” @stonemegan14.
Recently, there was talk that there would be a new Bond movie, and the title character could be played by Idris Elba. Idris is a handsome, English actor who happens to have brown skin and brown hair. The internet again went into an uproar over the idea that a black man could be cast as James Bond, who has always been handsome, Scottish, and Caucasian. More disparaging comments were soon made by Rush Limbaugh who stated, “James Bond is a total concept put together by Ian Fleming. He was white and Scottish. Period. That is who James Bond is, was,” Limbaugh said. “But now (they are) suggesting that the next James Bond should be Idris Elba, a black Briton, rather than a white from Scotland. But that’s not who James Bond is.”
I am pretty amazed at the uproar at brown skinned actors and actresses playing fictional characters widely recognized as Caucasian. I mean Caucasian actors and actresses have been portraying historical figures of color as white for years. Scratch years, since the beginning of film. Early on characters of color were portrayed by Caucasians in blackface. Later the black or yellow makeup was removed and instead it became accepted for whites to play black figures in history: In any movie containing Jesus, He is always played by a Caucasian actor. Jesus is described as having feet and skin like bronze, and hair as wool. Let’s bring it into the 21st century, for those who may argue that that was in the past. Christian Bale as Moses, considering Moses is delivering the Jews from Egypt I would guess he was not Caucasian. How about Jim Sturgess, a Caucasian actor, playing Jeffrey Ma, an Asian male, who played on the MIT blackjack team in 21? No one bats an eye, makes a stink, or writes scathing Twitter responses. Why is it acceptable for Caucasians to portrayal real, historical figures of color, but not acceptable for brown skinned actors/actresses to portray fictional characters largely recognized as white?
Early on this was apart of institutionalized racism. Now, Hollywood would argue it’s economical. White leading men and women are believed to generate more money for movies than their counterparts of color. If that is to be believed, then white actors are cast in black roles because it makes dollars. Who determines what movies make money, the general public presumably. So, people of color don’t go to the movies? Perhaps, if Hollywood made more movies correctly depicting people of color viewership would increase amongst minorities. Perhaps, if Hollywood placed people of color in lead roles, depicting characters that aren’t slaves, hired help, or buffoons, people wouldn’t be so surprised when they see Wallis as Annie or Elba as Bond. Perhaps, Hollywood should cure its White Savior complex by casting people of color in the role of hero instead of antagonist. Perhaps, Hollywood should change their lackadaisical attitude toward social change and lead the way on providing moviegoers with honest depictions of historical figures and universally relatable characters of color. I believe Hollywood sets the standard on what feels right to viewers and if they do their part movies with people of color in lead roles can be box office hits. Until then, hats off to Carter, the Smiths, and Wallis for going against the grain and recreating a great movie without regard for color or status quo. To be honest when I hear “It’s the hard knock life (uh-huh) for us It’s the hard knock life, for us!! Steada treated, we get tricked Steada kisses, we get kicked It’s the hard knock life!! I think of a young child of color growing up in America where no matter how smart or talented you might be, you are often made to feel inferior because of the color your skin.
Written By: Whitney Hampton