Parent Like You Mean It 3: Watching Annie Through Colorblind Lenses

Parent Like You Mean It 3: Watching Annie Through Colorblind Lenses December 30, 2014

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I had the awesome privilege this morning to take my family to the movies and see the new, 2014 version of the movie Annie. Like many parents my age, I grew up singing along to the 1982 version, and I gotta say… I loved the new version just as much.

But, while I was watching it, I remembered a recent article that I read on Yahoo Parenting by Rachel Bertsche titled “Target’s Annie Ads Spark Controversy”. Here’s the column, my thoughts, and I hope you will continue the conversation with your thoughts as well:

Target’s Annie Ads Spark Controversy by Rachel Bertsche

When LaSean Rinique first saw an ad for Target’s new Annie for Target clothing line last weekend, she was sitting at the computer with her 8-year-old daughter, an Annie superfan. The girl in the ad was a young white model, wearing a red dress and a locket – the iconic Annie outfit. But the Annie in the current movie – the one who inspired this new line – is black, and this wasn’t lost on Rinique’s daughter, who is biracial.  “She saw the ad and said to me, ‘That’s not what Annie looks like. How come the new black Annie isn’t good enough? Does that mean I’m not good enough?’” according to Rinique.

LaSean says her jaw dropped. “I explained to her that the original Annie was white, and that both Annies are beautiful, and that sometimes people make mistakes and have to apologize for them,” the Delaware mom, who is a regular Target shopper, says. “Then we started singing ‘It’s a Hard-Knock Life’ while she got back to doing her chores.”

In hopes of getting that apology, Rinique posted a petition on Change.org. She writes: “Your recent Annie ads and in-store displays depicts a misleading depiction of the movie as it shows a Caucasian young lady opposed to the star of the film- Quah-Ven-jah-nay Wallis. Though the model is quite professional, she does not speak to the relevance of the movie or main character. When the original Annie came out, everything was about Aileen Quinn or a character/ or person that emulated her…why not now Target? If you can show it online, show it in ALL of your stores with multiple signage with different girls not one!”

Rinique continues: “Why do you feel that we are not enough to portray our beautiful images on your advertisements? If it is a multi-cultural issue, surely you could use her co-stars on some ads and Quvenzhané Wallis or another African American girl on others. … These grossly misleading ads are adding to the divide and does not give young African American girls aspiring to become actors anything to be optimistic about. Or show more diversity within your stores and depict a variety of races as you did with your online ads. Everyone does not have access to internet- plus the younger fans may not be allowed to use internet.”

Since she posted the petition on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 28, it’s been gaining steam. As of this article’s writing, it has more than 4,200 signatures, with a goal of 5,000.

“Target is notorious for whitewashing their ads,” Rinique says. “All I want Target to do is make the ads a little more multicultural. I’m not saying take the ads down, I’m saying if you are going to have it, have another one who looks more like the current Annie. I’m pretty sure it’s in Target’s budget to make two signs.”

While there is an African-American girl in some of the online ads, Rinique points out that in-store the Annies are white, and that none of the African-American girls online are wearing the classic red dress and locket. “I’m hoping that Target has an executive board meeting and takes a look at who is in their marketing department. I’m hoping they will issue an apology, and set up an Annie display that shows what the cast looks like right now.” The reason Annie is popular now is because of the current cast, so that is who should be featured, she says. Rinique says she also hopes that Target will make more Annie products that look like the cast. “I’d love to see an Annie doll, or an Annie backpack,” she says.

Rinique says she’s surprised that her petition has caught on the way it has. “I didn’t expect this, but it speaks to the racial divide in our country,” she says. “My daughter is half black and half Puerto Rican. I already have to constantly tell her she is beautiful, and she was excited to see an Annie who had hair just like hers. So for her to be on that natural high from the movie and then for this to happen, it’s disappointing.”

Alright, alright. Now, it’s my turn. First off, I’m about to intentionally give the most annoying type of apology that exists. I absolutely HATE apologies like the one I’m about to offer.

Here it goes: I’m sorry, LaSean Rinique, if you were offended.

See what I did there?

I didn’t say “I’m sorry for offending you” because I didn’t offend her… yet. Also, I’m not taking ownership of what it was that offended her, but put the ownerships straight on her shoulders by adding the clause, “…if you were offended.”

Why am I so blatantly coming off so callous?

OK, first off all, kudos to Yahoo Parenting’s Rachel Bertsche for writing about Ms. Rinique’s ordeal and petition. Throughout Rachel’s article are so many nuggets that need to be discussed.

Firstly, Rinique says:

“These grossly misleading ads are adding to the divide and does not give young African American girls aspiring to become actors anything to be optimistic about.”

One: what adds to the divide is not that there is a Caucasian girl in a poster at Target. What adds to the divide is that you make such a big deal out of it! And I don’t care who the little girl is, or what nationality she claims, if she is aspiring to become an actor and this sign kills her optimism, she better give up the dreams of being in the spotlight. Those precious snowflakes who had the role of sheep number three in last week’s Christmas pageant doesn’t have the strength, confidence and emotional fortitude that Quvenzhane, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz or their costars have to make it in the industry if she’s fragile enough to be taken down by a clothing marketing campaign.

Secondly, Rinique claims that “in-store the Annies are white”… they aren’t Annies. Because they’re white, they obviously aren’t supposed to be 2014 Annies. They are models who show what the clothing might look like on this one particular little girl. That’s it. With the state of so many other issues we parents and our kids face today, I’m just happy that they got the gender right.

Third, Rinique said about her 4,200 signatures:

“I didn’t expect this, but it speaks to the racial divide in our country,”

No. All it says is that – apparently – 4200 people were willing to stamp their names without any honest conversation, or revelation of all sides of the story, or understanding just what was the goals of the petition. I could easily get 5,000 signatures in favor of segregating the state of California into several different militia states, or even away from the USA altogether, but it doesn’t mean that there’s a “statehood divide” here in the Golden State.

All this to say… and quite sincerely… LaSean – thank you for caring so much about your little girl. Thank you for standing in the gap for her, encouraging her, explaining the world around her in terms that she will understand, and making her do her chores. I wish more parents, as I say, “Parent Like They Mean It” as you do.

As I said earlier, I took my four boys to see the new Annie this morning. All four of them LOVED it. Even the one who initially went in claiming to not want to see a bunch of girls dancing and singing came out humming “A Hard Knock Life”. But what really impressed me was that my kids came out with a sense of colorblindness when it came to the actors and the characters they portrayed. It didn’t even phase them that Annie was black or that her friends were white, black, Hispanic… they could have been extraterrestrial and it wouldn’t have mattered to their understanding and appreciation of the story. It wasn’t even remotely interesting, much less an issue, that Lou – the shop owner around the corner – was Puerto Rican and he fostered an undying love for the Cameron Diaz’s white Mrs. Hannigan (who, by the way was once a member of C&C Music Factory for added diversity points). And not a single one of my kids blinked an eye at the fact that Rose Byrne’s British (and white) Grace Ferrell was in love with Jamie Foxx’s African American Will Stacks.

You see, when I was a boy, like today’s Annie, I had friends of all nationalities. I didn’t have black friends or Korean friends or Mexican friends. I just had friends. We all played ball together, rode bikes together and got in trouble together. When I played basketball, I didn’t pretend to be Larry Bird or Dan Majerle… I was Magic Johnson making the winning shot as the clock counted down. Likewise, out on the ballfield, I imagined myself as Reggie Jackson or Rod Carew when I was at the plate just as often as I pretended to be Steve Garvey or Carl Yaztremski – depending on how odd of a batting stance I was adopting.

The point is that when it comes to their friends and the kids in the neighborhood they play with, the same goes for my boys. And that’s an amazing privilege I know that my family has. Likewise, my boys don’t view Barak Obama as our African American President – just our President. Nor do they view their movie stars, singers or superheroes as determined by the colors of their skin, but by the content of their character. They are (so far, at least) color blind when it comes to racial divides, segregation, privilege or oppression. They understand that all of us are made in God’s image and are deserving of the inherent dignity that comes along with that.

So, what’s my bottom line?

It’s this – go see Annie. It’s a real treat. Quvenzhané Wallis and the rest of the cast – including the City of New York – as well as the producers, director and crew really did a great job. And go shop at Target. Their marketing teams knew what they were doing when they hired the models for their Annie line of clothing as much as for their Shaun White, Rachael Ray or Levi’s products. Their objective was not to be as racially diverse as possible or to pay tribute to Quvenzhane or her co-stars. It was to sell clothing. If they were right in their strategy, the clothing will sell. If they were wrong, the items will stay on the shelves. It’s that simple. Meanwhile, I suggest that we parents less on racial division or value based on skin tone and more on developing the character and values within our children. To me, that seems like a much better method than forming a petition of “Parenting Like You Mean It”.

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