Production will start early next year on a new film version of Annie, a fact I wasn’t too excited about on its own until I heard of the details: the titular role will be played by everybody’s favorite gender-bending teen, Willow Smith (or, OK, at least she’s my favorite), with music by Jay-Z. If that isn’t enough awesome for you, the adapted screenplay is being written by Emma Thompson, who has been working on it for three years. Suddenly, my excitement level exploded out of my ears. It’s still too early to know if the adaptation will be all that radically different from John Huston’s 1982 version, thematically or plot-wise, but even just knowing that there will be some Jay-Z songs added to the mix is enough for me.
I felt the same way when I heard about a local all-black production of Oklahoma! last year here in Portland, Oregon. I felt the same way when I first heard about Malinda Lo’s Ash, a queer take on Cinderella. Anytime something like this enters the world, I feel the same way, and that way is: Yes! Yes!
It’s so important for minority groups to adapt and reclaim stories that we’re used to seeing portrayed as white, as straight, as anything “mainstream.” It’s essential for humans — particularly young humans — to see themselves reflected back at them from the screen. This is true not just in stories that are marketed “for them” (although these are essential as well), but in stories that are universal, in stories that are for all of us, and stories that were previously cast monotone. It’s important to reinforce the fact that we can all be part of the fabric of the immortal tales, the stories that stick with us, that stay for a reason. People often complain about the problem of constant remakes, of there being no original stories left to tell. And yes, the movie industry just cashing in on what they know will make a profit instead of taking risks with new, creative works is definitely reaching a dangerously saturated point. But reinventing the good stories is a consistent part of our culture for a reason: the reinventions continue to make the stories relevant, to explore which elements should change and which should stay the same. Reinventions can empower.
Along this theme, I started to think about what other classic childhood tales of mine could be remade with more diverse casts and more queer storylines. Here’s just a short list of what my brain came up with.
Oh, and just assume I want Jay-Z and/or Beyonce to be involved in the soundtrack for all of them.
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As this was my favorite book as a child, the pages of my copy practically disintegrated from the number of times I read it, this popped into my mind first. First of all, Matilda herself would be played by Miss Amandla Stenberg (Rue from The Hunger Games) because 1) Amandla is impossibly adorable, and 2) Listen, not all bookworms are scrawny white people, OK? Secondly, other than her mother, all the females in this thing would be lesbians. I mean, Trunchbull is a dyke if I ever saw one. I want Queen Latifah for her. But I’m making Miss Honey a lesbo too. Yes, sweet Miss Honey is on our team, too. For Miss Honey, I’m casting America Ferrera, because this is my Matilda and I can do what I want and girl needs some good roles these days, seriously.
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Exactly like the original Newsies, but really, really gay. So not too much will have to change. Our Cowboy Jack and David this go around will be Daniel Kaluuya, from the tragically cancelled The Fades because I miss his face, and Zac Efron — forgive me, I have a Zac Efron thing — and they will just make out a lot whenever they are not busy bringing down Pulitzer and Hearst. That’s all. The rest will be the same. Think about it. It could work.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
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I want a version called Snow White and the Riot Grrrls, where Snow White finds herself in a cottage full of really kick ass and funny women instead of dwarves. Maya Rudolph will be our Snow White and instead of Grumpy and Sneezy and Dopey she’ll meet Margaret Cho, Carrie Brownstein, Tina Fey, Kathleen Hanna, Roseanne, Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman. They’ll teach Snow White about all the things she can do other than cooking and cleaning the cottage, laughing uproariously while they do so. Afterwards, they’ll go find the Evil Queen, played by Retta, and explain that her hatred of Snow White is only due to self-esteem issues brought on by misrepresentation in the media and sexist marketing, and they’ll teach her to love herself for who she is. They’ll then commence to take that poisoned apple together to Russia and give it to Vladimir Putin and then they’ll free Pussy Riot. Returning then to the States, their grand finale will be a surprise rock concert at the RNC, where they incorporate the word “vagina” into their lyrics as frequently as possible. The final scene will close on the shocked faces of all the delegates in the audience, fading into scenes of little girls around the world watching the concert on CNN, dancing in their living rooms and clapping.
Bye, Bye, Birdie
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The original ultra-straight musical weaved from fandom, this would be so easy to queerify. Simply take the Elvis-esque Conrad Birdie and replace him with a super hot lady we all want to kiss. Is there any option other than Naya Rivera? In the original, the girl who gets picked to kiss Birdie goes through tribulations with her jealous boyfriend until returning to him in the end. Bo-ring. In our version, she’ll still start the story with a jealous boyfriend, but her irrepressible desires to kiss Naya will have helped awaken who she really is! And sorry dude, but Naya wins! As for Rosie and Albert, I’ll keep Vanessa Williams for Rosie, as she was cast in the ’90s TV version. But “Albert” will be Lucy Liu, who will just go by an androgynous “Al.”
Now and Then
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Even though I look at the cover of my DVD of this and think, “Wow, that is a lot of white people in jean overalls,” I love all these actresses so much that I can’t bear to reassign them. But what I do want is to just be able to rewrite this movie so that the one glaring mistake is fixed, and for heaven’s sake, let Christina Ricci/Rosie O’Donnell be the dyke she is. Christina Ricci is such a tomboy that she TAPES HER BREASTS, but then she KISSES DEVON SAWA? (No offense, Dev.) Related: it’s Christina Ricci and Rosie O’Donnell. Come on, people! In my version, she’ll try to kiss Thora Birch instead, who will awkwardly be all, “But I don’t feel that way, Roberta!” And it will break Roberta’s heart! But then she’ll go to college and move past her heartbreak! When Rosie O’Donnell reunites with the ladies as a grown up she’ll tell them how she’s been in a loving relationship with her partner for 10 years now (played by Jane Lynch), and they’ll all have a good laugh over that time she tried to make out with Teeny.
If you could remake any of your favorite childhood movies to be more relevant to you, what would they look like? If you had the power to cast whoever you wanted, who would you choose?