Annie goes back to the Ghetto… with Jay-Z

Here is some interesting news.

Will and Willow Smith- Collaborating to Produce and star in an adaptation of “Annie”

A remake of the 1977 musical (and 1982 film) Annie is in pre-production, and has just announced that it is preparing to shoot in the Spring. With Will Smith producing, his children Willow and Jayden set to star, Emma Thompson writing the script and Jay-Z composing the score, we’re looking at a completely new creature. Its a internationally renowned ghetto fairy-tale that, for reasons best explained by the ridiculous levels of intolerance that dogged American culture back then, was staged with nearly exclusively white protagonists (Annie herself was always portrayed as a vaguely Irish red-head, and her dog was the only listed “mixed” character). Arguably, it is far more likely that such a story would come out of a predominantly black community, and as this relates to the topic of my dissertation I’m particularly interested to see Smith & co. re-interpret this story.

Which side of Brooklyn Bridge is the New York of this film set on…?

Before I end up putting my foot in it, or something like that, I should explain that I’m researching the evolution of what I’m calling African English: the strains of speech that evolved out of the horrendous genesis of the slave industry, that has since transcended its pidgin roots to become one of the most recognisable and pervasive strands of the English language;  principally through hip-hop and other forms of music and poetry, but also through an ever-growing Anglo-African pop-culture that manifests itself at every level of society. This is what Smith, Thompson and Carter (as Jay is otherwise known) are tapping into; a reclamation of the cultural history of African English speakers, which could go in a number of very interesting directions.

Jay Z has started composing the score, according to writer Emma Thompson. Your guess is a good as mine for what it’ll sound like.

If we go down the direct-remake route, we are looking at revamped production, that I anticipate will not be greatly modernised, that will play up on Willow Smith’s already-precocious media presence to emphasis the historical context of the film; more black power, less savvy orphans. The original plays up the ideals, frustrations and dashed hopes of young America, deserving recipients of the American Dream that rely on their talents to earn the love of WASPish prospective families. If this is the case, I anticipate that the new Annie will be rather more cynical; playing up the brash alienation of New York, where you’re a nobody without the right family- more of a Willow-versus-the World film.

If we are modernising the film, it could become a far more naturalistic beast. Jay-Z’s score is completely under wraps, but if the film is not to be a full-on musical we could be looking at a gritty sonic backdrop to the Big Apple that reflects the sense of place (or lack of) a young black Orphan might feel, or come to discover. Given Will and Jayden’s collaboration on The Pursuit of Happyness, an Oscar-nominated film that was far more genuine and raw than many expected, this might be quite close to the truth. It would also be a compelte departure from the Annie people know and love, which could jeopardise its USP as a musical film.

Alternatively, we could be looking at some sort of modern musical that will really play into Jay-Z’s hands as a composer. A lot of emphasis is being given to his role, and of course, one of his most famous tracks is his Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Remix). I’m not sure how that would play out, personally- will Willow be rapping her way into adoption? Its could, however, make for some very interesting reinventions of the classic (or overdone?) trope of the Musical, and pave the way for a lucrative Production career for the Smith family….

I’ll be keeping my eyes on this. Shooting begins in New York next year. for Emma Thompson’s words on the forthcoming script and score.

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