I’m not sure what I was expecting when I took my 9- and 6-year-olds to see the new Annie movie this past weekend. Both had been talking about the film since they began seeing previews a few months ago, so as soon as it was released, we took a family trip to the theater. Because my children were adopted through foster care, I had attempted to do my research before seeing the movie. I read multiple reviews, including a few written by other adoptive parents. I was pretty sure we were as prepared as possible, but there’s only so much you can prepare.
For one thing, the movie was far grittier than any review seemed to convey. Perhaps I saw the show on Broadway or watched the Carol Burnett version so many times that I couldn’t imagine the movie truly giving any justice to a realistic story line about foster care. But for the most part, I thought it did.
Like the original, young Annie is a ward of the state. Unlike the original, Annie identifies herself as a foster child, rather than an orphan. Simply changing the term “orphan” to “foster child” ended up being an extremely powerful switch for my family. I actually cried upon first realizing that the lyrics to the iconic song “Hard Knock Life” had been changed from “No one cares for you a smidge when you’re in an orphanage” to “No one cares for you a smidge when you’re a foster kid.”
I don’t think there is any way to explain how very strongly I was overcome with the urge to reach through the screen and hug each of those girls during this particular line. I thought this was a feeling exclusive to me as a foster parent, but when I looked at the woman next to me, she was crying, too. So many people are touched by foster care. I don’t know the her story, but clearly, it was a powerful word for her, too.
I thought the remake also drove home abandonment issues much more strongly than the original and previous remakes did. Thoughts of Annie’s birth family clearly extend much further than simply singing “Maybe” out her window at night. For example, Annie attempts to search for her records, has several fantasy sequences where she imagines her birth parents, and visits a restaurant where she thinks she will find her birth family every single week throughout the film.
One thing I found interesting was the number of adults who were looking to use Annie. Ms Hannigan is fostering Annie for one reason: a paycheck. The Daddy Warbucks equivalent, Mr Stacks, starts off by using Annie to further his political image. Annie is aware of this, and that seems to lessen the blow, but it was still painful to watch a child getting used over and over again by adults who should have been protecting her. Although bad foster homes are not common, they are certainly not unheard of, and wealthy people use “needy” kids to make themselves look good all the time. I hated seeing this happen to Annie, and I hated it even more when I realized I had seen it happen to an extent with my own kids when they were in foster care too.
One of the things my kids were looking forward to the most about Annie was seeing their favorite film remade with a child who looked like them. This was one aspect of the movie that really hit a home run. My 6-year-old daughter is pretty sure Quvenzhane Wallis is the coolest person ever. She has spent the last several days repeating lines from the movie. Her favorites are all about hair. While at the salon today, she took one look at her blown out afro and exclaimed “Wow! My hair is gigantic!” When questioning my children about the film afterwards I asked if they thought there was anything unrealistic. I had meant for their thoughts in terms of foster care, but my son quickly answered, “Annie’s hair always looked perfect! But she never slept with a sleep cap or spent any time taking care of it. In real life that would never happen. She must wear a sleep cap. No one would ever let her get away with that.”
I thought Annie was a great film, but I was honestly surprised by how much more intense it was than the other versions we have seen. My kids both said they enjoyed it, but it certainly brought up a lot of lengthy discussions afterwards about foster care, as well as their own personal history. One of my children said they thought it was a great film for kids in foster care because it was something they could relate to. My other child thought it would be too sad for anyone in foster care to watch. This child seemed to have a few more feelings about the film than I expected and was also deeply worried about what the outcome for Annie’s friends was, as well as what really happened to Annie’s birth family, neither of which were covered in the film.
Although I think Annie could be triggering for some children, I’m glad it was more realistic then past versions, and I’m also glad it was able to ignite such deep conversations with my kids about adoption and foster care.