There are a lot of films involving body switches and characters becoming their younger or older selves out there — Freaky Friday, 17 Again, 13 Going On 13, Big — but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that stars non-white actors, which is where the new movie Little comes in.
The movie, which was inspired by Big and created by a then-10-year-old Marsai Martin (Black-ish) is about a Miranda Priestly-esque black woman CEO who magically becomes her teenage self again, which allows her to address the formative moment that made her the tyrant she is at the beginning of the film. The basic idea is nothing new, but the lead roles being played by African American women adds representation to this category that goes beyond just popping black people into a movie white people have already done.
“It’s not just about the optics of this film,” executive producer Will Packer (Girls Trip) said when Refinery29 visited the Little set back in July. “It is thematically similar to body switch comedies, but there are specifics in the dynamics between the characters and the situations that we put them in that are very different.”
Star of the film, Martin, pitched the film to Packer when she was 10 years old (she’s now 14). She had the idea when she was talking to her parents. “It was me, mommy, and daddy, and we were actually talking about the movies that they were watching back then,” Martin explained. “And one of my mom’s favourite movies growing up was Big. So that’s really how the idea was just like [gasps] brought out to us.”
Martin, her father (Joshua Martin), and Black-ish creator Kenya Barris went on to pitch the idea to Packer who said he picked it up because “it’s a good damn idea.”
“You know what it is?” he continued. “We had not seen this movie with these people. We have seen a lot of this. Of course, with Tom Hanks and Lindsay Lohan, you had seen versions of this movie. But never with somebody who looked like Marsai, Regina Hall, and Issa Rae. And when I made Girls Trip, you had seen different versions of movies with like women having fun and behaving badly, but you had never seen brown girls doing what they do and being authentic to who they are. And this movie, universal theme, relatable to everybody, but it is very much through the lens and the perspective of these characters.”
This can be seen in the trailer most pointedly when Little Jordan (Martin) is explaining to her assistant, April (Rae), that she went to bed her adult self and woke up a teenager. April responds, “That’s for white people, ‘cause black people don’t have the time.”
Little makes efforts to show black perspectives and be true to black culture in much more subtle ways, too. Costume designer Danielle Hollowell and assistant costume designer Provi Fulp Ramphal included black designers such as Virgil Abloh, Carly Cushnie, and Brother Vellies’ Aurora James. Director Tina Gordon Chism included artwork and even used wine made by black women as part of the set.
Packer made sure to further explain that the plot differs from the other body swap movies, too. “In a horror, in a family comedy, in a body switch comedy, there are elements that are similar,” he said. “But that dynamic … where you have the little girl who had an incident that was kind of traumatic and became this other person who was not who she really is, is forced to go back to that exact same time period, has the right-hand person who has to now find her voice to takeover the company — those things are unique to this film.”
Rae calls the film “uncharted territory.” When speaking to reporters on set about what Little might mean to young girls today, Rae struggled to find a comparison. She mentioned Spike Lee’s Crooklyn being meaningful to her as a teen, but added, “I didn’t have many examples. I think more on the TV side I always credit Moesha, but on the film side there weren’t that many movies centred around little black girls.”
That said, Packer strongly believes the film’s audience is “everybody.” He explained, “When I thought about this movie when I was talking to Universal about it, I said, you don’t have a movie for mothers to take their daughters to, especially black mothers and black daughters and brown mothers and brown daughters. Doesn’t mean that it’s not also for white mothers and white daughters, but you do have a lot of Mamma Mias and Pitch Perfects and stuff like that.” He also added that he wants the movie to work to show Hollywood “that we’ve got to tell all kinds of stories with all kinds of people.”
It’s clear that this matters to Martin, as well, but she’s also focused on the message it will give to other kids her age. “There’s no limit to what you can do,” she said of the takeaway for tweens and teens. “And if you think you can do it at this time, you don’t have to wait. I think that’s what I want them to take out of this film, where this 13-year-old created this film and it turned out to be this wonderful, Black Girl Magic, fulfilling, and loving film. And I think that’s probably what I want to let kids know about. Like, wow, she made this really dope film at this young age and that means I can do it, too.”
And when Little hits cinemas on 12th April, viewers will be seeing Martin’s hopes in action. Also, if Packer’s success with Girls Trip is any indication, the film world as a whole will see (once again) that diversifying the perspectives behind the scenes is not just right — it’s everything.