Nathaniel Turner was pleasantly surprised at how much the new movie adaptation of “Annie” challenged the common portrayal of African-American dads in popular media.
Just the other evening, I snuck into the theatre to see a movie that made me feel quite proud to be a father, in particular, an African-American father. Before I tell you anything else about the movie, primarily based on the inane national obsession about African-American men and law enforcement, I feel obliged to define “snuck.”
“Snuck” is code for I bought a ticket and scurried to the back of the theatre hoping that nobody I knew would see me. Sneaking in the theatre is what a man does when he thinks he is doing something that might make him lose his man-card or in the case of this African-American father squander his cool card.
I’m uncertain about how other men feel, but going to the theatre, volitionally and individually, to watch a G-rated or family movie without bringing small children felt unnatural. Nevertheless, I ignored the spiking testosterone, “snuck” in the theatre, and covertly scurried to the back row the night that I went to see Annie.
THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW
I know, I know… I went to see Annie. I admit it and I would encourage you to see it as well. I also freely admit that it wasn’t easy to do. If you go see it alone and you angst over losing your man-card like I did, you can always do what I did. You can approach going to see Annie as if you are a secret agent on a top secret mission.
Before opening the door to enter “theatre 5,” I looked over my shoulder to make sure no one I knew saw me. Once the coast was clear, I went inside. As I climbed the stairs, I kept my head low observing everything from the corner of my eye while being careful not to make direct eye contact with anyone. I held my large bucket of popcorn next to the side of my face where those seated might attempt to recognize me.
While subtly humming the most recognized song from Annie, I repeated the following affirmation: “If anyone sees me going in or coming out of this movie, the embarrassment won’t last long and the sun will come out tomorrow.” In retrospect, I’m sure my clandestine approach made me look ridiculously suspicious. The only thing that might have made my behavior more suspicious would have been if I pulled my hoodie over my head.
I was able to get my desired seat—top row, center. As the lights dimmed, I let out a sigh of relief. Thank God, nobody I knew saw me and I didn’t have to answer the million dollar question: “Hey man, what are you doing in this movie?”
TAKE A SEAT
For the next two hours, I watched a movie that the critics had destroyed. The width and depth of the criticism was so extensive that I completely understood why the theater wasn’t full.
Most moviegoers decide what to see based on the opinions of movie critics. After reading the reviews, anyone considering seeing Annie would have to ask themselves what’s the point of seeing a movie that the majority of critics disliked. One critic disliked it so much that she wrote “Annie is easily one of the worst movies of the year”.
So, with little expectation about the quality of the movie and the dread about losing my man-card, I reclined in my seat, started eating my large bucket of heart stopping, artery clogging, and obscenely high caloric popcorn and watched Annie.
Although the critics did not mention the subplots explicitly, I surmise that it’s possible that some critics were troubled by many of the “implausible” aspects of the storyline. Perhaps, in the eyes of some this modern version of Annie was simply too unrealistic.
How dare the director, producer, and writers make controversial assertions about African-American fathers? Who were the director, producer, and writers to challenge the commonly held narratives spewed about African-American fathers?
While routine reports of absent and deadbeat African-American fathers are often accurate, Annie depicts the other story about African-American men and fathers that isn’t told nearly enough. Annie is not fantasy. Annie is my story and the story of many of the African-American fathers I know.
This modern version of Annie showcased in big screen cinematic glory the love so many African-American fathers have for their children.
JUST THE STACKS
Will Stacks was a working African-American man. In fact, Will Stacks was an entrepreneur who employed others, paid his “fair share” of taxes, and contributed to society in positively meaningful ways. Will Stacks provided for the well-being of a child, who, by the way, was not even his biological child.
Will Stacks changed his life—worked less and worked differently—so that he could put his responsibilities as a father first. Will Stacks was home at night and helped his child with reading. Above all, just like so many real African-American fathers, Will Stacks loved his child relentlessly.
After the movie ended and I removed the pollen from my eyes (you’ll have to see the movie to understand this reference), I reread what the critics wrote. Having just watched the movie, I found the reviews to be just about as I expected them to be—shortsighted and something less than “fair and balanced.”
In a way, Annie is a microcosm of the regular generalized tunneled vision sociopolitical critique of African-American men and fathers. While it is true that everyone is entitled to their opinion, the unfortunate thing for fathers like Will Stacks is that our voice and story is too often ignored and drowned out by critics.
IN THE END
I was able to ignore the meandering intentionally unresolved racialized discussions that continue to plague this country for two hours. Leaving the theatre with my head held high rather than the way I entered as if I was an undercover agent, I pondered the role of the critic.
Is it ever okay to write a review from the perspective of supporting the type of positive African-American fathering portrayed in Annie? Might the critic have a role in moving the discussion from current national incessant obsessions to positive contributions African-American fathers are making?
Maybe, if we weren’t in such a rush to criticize movies like Annie, we could recognize a bigger picture. Perhaps we might expand an improved and more useful narrative about African-American men. A preeminent narrative where African-American fathers actually work, run companies, aren’t angry, don’t drink or smoke, never abuse their significant others, refuse to break the law, and above all love their children insanely.
I know it’s a lot to ask but, like Annie, I’ll just keep holding out hope for “tomorrow.”
Credit: Image—Mike Mozart/Flickr