The Annie Of Tomorrow Has The Same Hard Knocks, But Different Hair : Code Switch The famously redheaded orphan is played this time by African-American actress Quvenzhané Wallis. "The original Annie had a red Afro," points out Indiana University scholar Terri Francis.
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The Annie Of Tomorrow Has The Same Hard Knocks, But Different Hair

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The Annie Of Tomorrow Has The Same Hard Knocks, But Different Hair

The Annie Of Tomorrow Has The Same Hard Knocks, But Different Hair

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

When you think of the main character of the musical "Annie," a couple of things instantly come to mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOMORROW")

AILEEN QUINN: (As Annie) (Singing) The sun'll come out tomorrow, so you've got to hang on to tomorrow.

SIEGEL: This song, for one, and Annie's hair. Her curly, bright, red hair communicates pluck and independence. And it's made NPR's Neda Ulaby wonder about the hair politics of the new movie-version of "Annie." It opens in theaters next week. And it stars an African-American actress.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Colorblind casting is not 100 percent colorblind. Making characters like Annie and Daddy Warbucks black brings up a host of hair issues.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANNIE")

QUVENZHANE WALLIS: (As Annie) Whoa. My hair's gigantic.

ULABY: Let's just take a look for a second at a trailer for the movie.

NOLIWE ROOKS: I was absolutely struck by the fact that hair seems to almost be a character in the trailer.

ULABY: Cornell University Professor Noliwe Rooks studies the history and politics of black hair. In this two-minute trailer, she says, there's about three or four hair jokes. And Annie's hair is still a statement.

ROOKS: Her hair is just, like, wild. It's literally as unstyled - it's not in a style. It's just big. It's not combed. It's just sticking out. No one has taken care of this child. No one is particularly interested in her grooming.

ULABY: In the trailer, Annie's hair comes up again when the evil foster mom, Ms. Hannigan, is talking with the Daddy Warbucks character. He's been renamed Will Stacks.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANNIE")

JAMIE FOXX: (As Will Stacks) Annie says that you're a very good singer.

CAMERON DIAZ: (As Ms. Hannigan) What did she say, oh, she's a really good singer?

ULABY: Ms. Hannigan is mocking Annie. She holds up her hand as if she's got giant hair. Her visitor is confused.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANNIE")

FOXX: (As Will Stacks) I don't know what this is.

DIAZ: (As Ms. Hannigan) Her hair.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) It's a hard-knock life for us.

TERRI FRANCIS: The original Annie had a red afro.

ULABY: Terri Francis of Indiana University says this Annie's hair is puffy, and it's tinted slightly red, but...

FRANCIS: It's not really a fro. Why doesn't she have a fro?

ULABY: A fro, says Francis, is round and trimmed and carries its own cultural mythology.

FRANCIS: The fro is too political or too threatening or too black or something.

ULABY: Lest we confuse Annie with Angela Davis. Cultural politics might also explain, she says, why in the same two-minute trailer we see Annie catching the famously-bald Daddy Warbucks, or Will Stacks, putting on a hairpiece. Annie rats him out to his lovely white assistant, Grace Farrell.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANNIE")

WALLIS: (As Annie) Why aren't you and Mr. Stacks together?

ROSE BYRNE: (As Grace Farrell) He's very good-looking. Great, chiseled face. Good hair.

WALLIS: (As Annie) I wouldn't bank on the hair, sister.

ULABY: Francis says black baldness means something different than white baldness.

FRANCIS: The baldness is not about losing hair. The baldness is baadnessss - two As, four Ss.

ULABY: To give Daddy Warbucks a hairpiece was to tame him a little bit, she says. It makes him a little less virile. Scholar Noliwe Rooks says there's something else important going on. You see Grace Farrell taking care of Annie's hair.

ROOKS: Generally, what we hear is that white mothers do not know what to do with black children's hair.

ULABY: To see a moment in a movie trailer where a white woman happily, comfortably makes an African-American girl's hair look good, she says that's significant.

ROOKS: It's difficult for us to find cultural productions that are about the love and care of little black children. I give them two thumbs up for that.

ULABY: Rooks says the story of African-American hair is a story about belonging and not belonging. And it's a story that fits nicely and not so nicely in the story of an orphan looking for and finding a family. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S THE HARD-KNOCK LIFE")

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: (As foster kid) (Singing) Santa Claus we never see.

WALLIS: (As Annie) (Singing) Santa Claus - what's that? Who's he?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (As foster kids) (Singing) No one cares for you a bit when you're a foster kid. It's the hard-knock life.

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