Annie's Journey Through Time
The nationally syndicated comic strip Little Orphan Annie was the creation of comic artist Harold Gray ran successfully for almost eighty-six years and has been translated into radio as well as many plays and films (Wagner, 2007.) The movie Annie (1982 film) was adopted from the play on Broadway, which took its narrative from the 1924 comic strip. A visual analysis of the recent Annie (2014 film) by comparison with the original Annie (1982 film) and original comic strip, The Little Orphan Annie (Gray, 1924) will demonstrate how culture has affected the narrative through visual elements.
How do comic strip characters transferred to film propagate or dispel original cultural values through stereotyped depictions of individual roles?
The comic strip characters Gray created in Annie were symbols of the values, fears, and troubles that American society inhabited in the early twentieth century. A closer look at the original comic strip specific characters will present a basis for comparison of the evolution of the narrative into film. The comic strip used many techniques that did not transfer to play or film such as leveling out realistic setting in favor of dark moody scenes that conveyed anxiety. Ballooning text gave the ten year old her first voice as imagined by the reader, before the radio or film versions was conceived.
Annie's eyes and hair were exaggerated comic features, and the curly hair was transferred to keep the character recognizable despite changing her ethnicity in the most recent film. The character of the young orphan Annie herself became a cultural icon of American virtues, as she showed independence and determination in fighting child labor, communism, Nazis, and poverty. The story was set in the era of the Great Depression and included political themes, including opposing the views of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his government policies to help the poor and unemployed (Harvey, 2013.)
Annie herself represented the cultural values of the self-disciplined worker, and the moral sovereignty of the poor.
However, the orphaned girl with the large innocent eyes still needed to be rescued from the dangerous world by billionaire "Daddy" Warbucks and his cohorts. The name "Daddy" itself hints at the paternalistic nature of American politics and the name "Warbucks" implies a capitalist connection between going to war and making money. This sort of fairytale about the blessed rich who have earned their high status was common reinventing the Depression Era (Andrews, 2006.) Annie as an iconic symbol personified youthful optimism, the spirit of tenacity that is the American work ethic, and an unquestioning faith in goodness that parallels religious faith.
Three minority figures were sometimes present as allies of Warbucks in the comic strip cartoon as stereotyped foreigners exuding mysterious otherworldly powers that served to save the cause of Annie. The strange characters "Punjab" from India and "Wun Wey" from China both harbored magic to save Annie from danger. There was also a bearded Sultan figure "Mr. Am" that could raise the dead and in name and deed alludes to the biblical account of God who is known in the Old Testament as "The Great I Am" which further supports traditional American Judeo-Christian values. When Warbucks was off doing serious work to keep making money and taking care of grown up matters, his cohorts, the three foreign characters all aided Annie who found herself in perilous situations and could not help herself despite her best efforts and unyielding optimism.
The 1982 movie, Annie did not diverge from the original themes of capitalism and American tenacity, but did introduce more stereotyped females in the film portrayed as lonely single women. The character of Miss Hannigan is a lonely drunken and inept villain and Grace Farrell the loyal secretary of Warbucks is shown suppressing her feelings of love for Warbucks, but not her maternal instincts for Annie. The original cast included memorable and talented Carol Burnett who played matron of the orphanage, Miss Hannigan but who did not make the cover of the promoted film.
In contrast, all the main characters make the cover of the new Annie (2014 film) which features a multiracial cast and for the first time two African American actors play the films main characters; Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie and Jamie Foxx as Daddy Warbucks. The change up of ethnicity in the role of rich industry giant, Oliver Warbucks reflects a cultural shift in American society as more non-whites depict success in film. To modernize the remake, other elements were changed. The dog is still named Sandy, but in the newer version, is named after Hurricane Sandy. However, the race and the name of the wealthy hero Warbucks is changed to African American politician named Stacks but he still plays the role of a rescuer, which is still male gender specific.
The orphan girl is now a foster kid and is still at the mercy of a paternalistic figure who rules society as a politician and Annie is still in need of rescue. The character of Miss Hannigan is sexier but remains a clumsy villain as a bad foster parent. The character of Grace Farrell is still a lovesick and lonely professional who seems to be waiting for her boss to notice her as a woman. In the most recent film, also the mysterious minority bodyguards were exchanged for a white political adviser to Stacks. The conclusion on the movie was changed to have Stacks back down from political aspirations in order to focus on his loved ones, which included Annie and Grace.
This ending highly contrasts with the 1982 storyline that reaffirms the power and position of the white Warbucks who can have it all. The newest Annie movie is more reflective of racial diversity and modern America. Even the change from the orphanage to the problems of foster kids shows how the movie plays to a modern audience. The identity of Annie is still the optimistic child who inspires others to value relationships, but the role of a father figure in the updated version is capable of giving up ambition to prioritize personal relationships.
The problem of gender specific stereotypes persist despite the eradication of racial stereotypes in the new movie, that show females in sexualized, subservient or supporting role positions and dependent upon male figures.
The significance of gender stereotyping in recent movies where an obvious effort to eradicate racial stereotypes has occurred demonstrates a lack of social equality that has harmed women through the decades.
When stereotypes persist through media narratives over time, there is a detrimental effect on society. Research by social critics has demonstrated through content analysis that audiences of media entertainment are especially unaware and vulnerable to the effects of stereotyping in American film (Parenti, 1992.)
The viewers of entertainment media expect to be transported to a fantasy story and are not critically analyzing the messages that they are viewing. The polysemous nature of stereotyped images show that many members of the audience will not notice this persistent gender specific labeling, but for feminists the Annie movie is a salient example of yet another example of cultural inequality for women (Graber, 1993.)
It is unlikely that women will boycott the latest Annie movie, or that audience members will realize the effect that continuous cultural stereotypes have upon themselves. Media researchers tell us that viewers are more apt to exaggerate the effects of media influence on others and discount the actual effects it has on oneself, which makes all of us more vulnerable (Davidson, 1993.)
What we visually perceive as a truth in film is not so much, what draws our attention, but those things we take for granted as true because we see them without questioning their existence.
Andrews, N. (2006, Sep 23). Show me the money wealth may not always bring happiness, but movie audiences would rather see screen idols rich than poor. Financial Times Retrieved fom http://search.proquest.com/docview/249940605?accountid=10358
Brosius, H., & Huck, I. (2008, January 1). International Encyclopedia of Communication Online. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.communicationencyclopedia.com/public/tocnode?id=g9781405131995_yr2011_chunk_g978140513199525_ss49-2
Graber, D. A. (1993). American politics -- make-believe media: The politics of entertainment by Michael Parenti. The American Political Science Review, 87(1), 221. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/214426344?accountid=10358
Harvey, R. (2013, May 20). Hare Tonic. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.tcj.com/the-orphans-epic/
Parenti, M. (1992). Make-believe media: The politics of entertainment (p. 241). New York: St. Martin's Press.
Wagner, A. (2007). Super I.T.C.H » Blog Archive » D. J. David B. Spins Comics-Tunes: Little Orphan Annie. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://superitch.com/?p=443