While at the movie theater recently, my children saw a preview for the new “Annie” remake due in Theaters this December. My 6-year-old daughter took one look at Quvenzhane Wallis and whispered “Mommy, she is so pretty! I have to see that!” My 9-year-old took a different approach and whispered to me with one raised eyebrow, “I don’t think that orphanage looks very realistic.” I think both of their comments reflect the adoption community’s thoughts and fears about the film as well.
My kids have been huge “Annie” fans since the 2012 Broadway revival, which we were able to see a few times through my husband’s work as a set builder. My kids know every single song lyric by heart. And sing them loudly. Often. My daughter’s favorite orphan in the Broadway show was the single black orphan in the cast, Tessie, played by Tyrah Skye Odoms. The fact that they are remaking the movie with not just a black Tessie in the cast, but a black Annie, is extremely exciting for my kids. There are few things that affirm a child’s race better than seeing it in their day-to-day lives through mentors of color, books, toys, TV shows, and movies they love. I am looking forward to my daughter seeing a beautiful girl who looks just like her up on the big screen.
The fact that my children were adopted through foster care and that the movie deals with what looks to be an unrealistic portrayal of “orphans” has made me stop and think. My kids both had as solid of an experience with foster care as possible: with minimal moves, kind caregivers, and a positive relationship with their birth family. They have never seemed to equate the storyline of Annie with anything in their own story. We’ve talked about the inaccuracies of films such as Annie in the passed, and I know this film will be filled with teachable moments for us. For our family, I don’t think it will cause any problems.
But what about the child who was adopted internationally and actually resided in an orphanage? Or the child who experienced an abusive foster home? Or the child who is still in foster care desperately wishing anyone would come along and adopt him or her? Could seeing “Annie” cause trauma to children in situations similar to these? Probably so. I can certainly understand why some foster or adoptive parents plan to skip it.
I have also considered the message the movie, which is not exactly realistic, may send to the uninformed public. Surprisingly, I’m not so sure this is the most terrible thing. The world of adoption is already so fraught with inaccuracies. I had a friend ask me a few Christmases ago if there was an orphanage nearby where she could drop off gifts. She was surprised when I informed her that there aren’t really movie-style orphanages in America anymore. I’m constantly receiving comments about how terrible foster parents are and how they are all in it for the money. Or the equally awkward comments about how amazing foster and adoptive parents are for “saving” the lives of poor abused children.
So doesn’t a film about a child with a mean caregiver in an abusive orphanage who is then saved by their adoptive parent reinforce these sentiments? The answer is yes. So why am I okay with that? For starters I’ve found that no matter how many true documentaries people see about adoption, it’s the sappy stories like “Annie” that stick with them.
I remember seeing the movie “Oliver and Company” as a small child. I cried when no one picked little Oliver from the box. Was Oliver an accurate portrayal of adoption? No. But I still vowed then and there that someday I would adopt or foster a child. I have no doubt that a myriad of people will see the movie “Annie” and be inclined to think about adopting.
They will, of course, discover the inaccuracies of the movie through their process. Most foster homes are good. Adoption is not about saving children but simply about parenting. 11-year-olds in the system are not usually mopping your floors with a big old grin on their face while singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.”
Potential adoptive parents will learn all of that along the way. Today, it’s just a movie that may get them thinking about the fact that there are kids out there who don’t have a family. And considering there are over 100,000 children available for adoption through the US foster care system, I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.