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Like a younger, more innocent Carmen, Annie is a figure that transcends culture, time, and place.
Just as opera’s most notorious heroine has surpassed the 19th-century French context in which she was born, so Little Orphan Annie has had a wide-ranging life since her birth in the Depression.
Whereas Carmen became a cultural fixture through her transition from the pages of a magazine to the world’s opera stages, Annie became everyone’s favorite orphan when Harold Gray’s comic strip inspired the Tony Award-winning musical. And as Carmen has her musical signature, the sultry aria known as the “Habanera,” so Annie has her trademark song, the sunny anthem “Tomorrow.”
My introduction to the character came via the 1982 Columbia Pictures film starring Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks, Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan and Aileen Quinn in the title role.
From that point on, I loved all things Annie.
I saved up my allowance to buy the soundtrack on vinyl, I was Annie for Halloween, and, when the touring version of the Broadway show came to my hometown, I begged my parents to go. My fandom reached a fever pitch when I came up with the idea for a new adaptation of my beloved musical: "Little AfroAnnie." Inspired by Annie’s transition from straight to curly hair, I took the next step and dared to reimagine her as a little black girl.
While my desire to see myself in this story was partially addressed by Disney’s 1999 made-for-TV version, which featured Audra McDonald in the role of Grace Farrell, Oliver Warbucks’ right-hand woman and love interest, it promises to be fully realized by the high-profile Sony/Columbia Pictures remake. Produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, this version stars Jamie Foxx as mayoral candidate Will Stacks, Cameron Diaz as foster mom Miss Hannigan, and Quvenzhané Wallis as the “young, happy foster kid who’s also tough enough to make her way on the streets of New York in 2014.”
This is the Annie my 9-year-old self longed to see.
It is not, however, an ethnically marked version, and for that I am now grateful. When imagining Annie with a twist, what I wanted was not a character who could only be African-American but one who could be African-American, period.
As novelists Toni Morrison and Walter Dean Myers and filmmakers Gina Prince-Blythewood and Malcolm Lee have all noted so eloquently, diversity in literature and film is important because it allows people of color to encounter not only characters who resemble their white peers but also those who look like them.
If Annie is anything, she is a New Yorker, and, should the character go on to have an existence as long as Carmen, I hope one day to see more versions that reflect the diversity of the U.S.’ largest city. To this date the musical has been "translated into 28 languages” and performed “in 34 different countries.”
Who’s to say an Annie who is Korean American or one who is Dominican American can’t be next?