In-store ads for the new Annie For Target line of kids' clothes have sparked a controversy, with some accusing the retailer of "whitewashing" the campaign by using white models, when the re-released film stars an African-American Annie. On December 29, a Change.org petition was created, asking Target to remove the offending materials and apologize to the film's star, Quvenzhané Wallis.
"In the current stench of racism and division amongst Americans, why would Target singlehandedly disrespect Quvenzhané Wallis and add more pain to injury as it relates to race relations? [...] 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, Quvenzhané Wallis. Though the model is quite professional, she does not speak to the relevance of the movie or main character."
Shelton goes on to question whether the "uproar from protesters stating that they would not support the movie due to the star being African American" is the reason Target did not show a Black model in its in-store ads. The petition asks that Target "immediately pull those misleading ads and give Quvenzhané Wallis her due respect as well as other little girls who aspire to be like her."
The petition has currently received over 7,000 signatures, with more appearing every time we refreshed the page, so clearly Shelton has hit a nerve. Today, Target responded to the petition, also on Change.org, stating in part that it could not come to an agreement with Wallis' team about having the actress appear in its ads, but that "girls from a variety of backgrounds were featured within the campaign, reflecting that anyone can embody the spirit and character of Annie."
To someone who grew up literally idolizing Annie, that explanation feels a little disingenuous. Years after my Annie obsession faded, I remember being thrilled by Jay Z's appropriation of the orphans' "It's A Hard-Knock Life" in his 1998 hit. Last year, I was equally excited when I heard the film was being remade with a Black cast — it would give a whole other group of little girls the chance to see themselves in Annie, and relate to the story that I had loved. Recasting Annie with a little Black girl in the lead — or in Jay's case, making Annie's ethos central to your "Ghetto Anthem" — those pop-culture moments have already proven that anyone can "embody the spirit of Annie." Making a young white model central to your in-store campaign simply doesn't.
Maybe a better template for Target's in-store ads would be the clothing line's campaign video (which you can view here). In it, a multi-racial group of girls romps on the city streets, doing cartwheels, and dressing up in the iconic red dress. It's a charming video that avoids the trope of using token models of color as accessories to a white model, by depicting all the girls as equal participants in the fun. Here's hoping that's a message Target spreads in its stores, too.