Late last week, I called my mom because I hadn’t talked to her in a few days. She was in the midst of writing a play and I wanted to know how it was going. Somewhere during the conversation, she asked me if I had plans to go see “Annie”. Now, when you do things alone, you never really have “plans”. Plans are something you make involving other people. When you’re flying solo, you just decide what you’re going to do and you do it. I had decided that I was going to see it opening weekend, but I didn’t really have plans. Mom thought the movie came out on Christmas Day and thought that we could go see it together then, but since it comes out on the 19th….and then her voice trailed off. That was my queue to say that I would wait to see it with her on Christmas Day and that’s exactly what I said.
My mother has never been a touchy-feely, huggy kind of person, but she would give great gifts with cards that would make you weep. She’s always been pretty powerful with words. I’ve never known her to be a highly sentimental person either, which is why I was a little surprised that she wanted to go see “Annie” with me.
“What’s the big deal about ‘Annie’?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you.
I grew up in Virginia; not northern Virginia, but the Virginia with mountains and farms and really thick accents, and antiquated views on race. By the second grade, I had already had two experiences with race that I still carry with me.
I saw the movie “Annie” when it was released in 1982 and was swept up in the Annie-mania that quickly ensued. I had the soundtrack and memorized every song. So when my hometown Fine Arts Center held auditions for a local production of “Annie”, I was beyond excited. Mom took me to the auditions. I remember being a little nervous and a lot confident when I walked up on the stage.
“What part will you be auditioning for?”
“Annie.”, I said and a hush fell over the crowd. I’m sure my mom’s heart must’ve been beating a mile a minute.
Oh wait! I forgot to tell you. I’m African-American.
In this part of Virginia in the early 80’s there was no way in the world they were going to cast a little Black girl as Annie and my mom had to have known that. I guess somewhere in me, I probably knew it too, but I didn’t care. I knew that of the girls that I had seen audition, I was the best and I figured the best girl should be chosen as Annie.
“Okay. What are you going to sing for us?”
“Okay. Go ahead.”
I picked that song because I knew everyone else was probably going to sing “Tomorrow”. I wanted to be sure the director remembered my performance. It didn’t dawn on me that the only little Black child auditioning for the play would be memorable enough.
I took a deep breath and belted out, “May-be far a-waaaay or maybe real near byyyyy, he may be pouring her cof-fee, she may be straitening his tie. May-be in a houuuuse…”
“Thank you very much.”
I knew they weren’t going to let me sing the whole song, but they didn’t even let me get to the good part. I smiled, or at least I think I smiled, and walked off the stage.
They cast me as one of the orphans. I think I had two lines.
Fast forward 30-something years and now “Annie” has been remade with a modern twist to the story.
And Annie is African-American.
I’ve been excited about this movie ever since I heard it was being made. I can’t wait to see it. It will be a dream fulfilled; a sort of victory to me.
My mom and I have mentioned my audition a time or two in the past, but she’s never told me what she thought and felt as I stood on stage and boldly proclaimed that I wanted to be Annie. She must’ve felt something or else she wouldn’t have suggested that we see the movie together. Maybe this experience will prompt her to share.
Today, I am thankful for my “Annie” experience and my mother’s sentimentality.
This is me with all of my opening night gifts. I’m holding a little necklace with a pearl on it that my mom gave me. That’s a story for another day.
Postscript: Here’s what Mom had to say. “What I remember is my child couldn’t understand why she couldn’t be Annie. How do you explain to a child that being good does not always matter when you are Black? What I remember is being proud of my daughter. What I remember is my daughter saying to me ‘If I cannot be Annie, I will out dance anyone on that stage’ and you did.”