Why Audiences Are Burned Out On Diversity Reboots

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 28: (L-R) Erykah Badu, Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson, Taraji P. Henson and Wendi McLendon-Covey attend the U.S. Premiere of "What Men Want" in partnership with CÎROC and presented by Paramount Pictures, Paramount Players, BET Films and Will Packer Productions at the Regency Village Theatre on January 28, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)
Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

Consumers greeted the news that filmmaker and “Blackish” producer Kenya Barris is making “diverse” reboots of “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” with a long, belabored sigh.

Not again.

On-screen diversity in Hollywood has made tremendous strides in recent decades, but the modern DEI push to commandeer every available property is a bit much. 

We routinely see white characters replaced by black actors, decisions that often yield positive results. Few, if any, complained when superstar Samuel L. Jackson became the MCU’s Nick Fury, a spy character originally depicted as white in Marvel Comics.

For all the hue and cry over Halle Bailey’s casting in “The Little Mermaid,” the young actress commanded the screen and more than held her own bringing those classic songs to life.

Yet revisiting classics for the sake of an Identity Politics “upgrade” feels like the antithesis of art. The story should come first, not the color of the actors or the agenda in play. The kind of projects Barris promises are wholesome renovations with black performers foremost in mind.

It appears Hollywood will not stop rebooting beloved properties – unless audiences abandon these projects en masse.

Still, the track record on race-based reboots is spotty at best. Consider the following examples:

“Annie” (2014)

Annie (2014) Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, Bobby Cannavale, Quvenzhané Wallis. Photo by Dave Allocca/Starpix for SPE, Inc. copyright 2014 StarPix. All rights reserved.

Annie (2014). Photo by Dave Allocca/Starpix for SPE, Inc. copyright 2014 StarPix. All rights reserved.

Young Quvenzhané Wallis brings the classic comic strip character to life, surrounded by a race-swapped Daddy Warbucks (Jamie Foxx) as her benefactor. Critics pummeled the reboot courtesy of a 29%“rotten” score at Rotten Tomatoes. The film fared better at the cineplex, earning $85 million stateside, but the project’s reported $65 million price tag made that figure less appealing.

The updated “Annie” did get some unwanted attention. It snagged two Razzie nominations – Worst Remake and Worst Supporting Actress (Cameron Diaz).

“The Honeymooners” (2005)

The Honeymooners (2005). Gabrielle Union, Cedric The Entertainer, Mike Epps, Regina Hall. Paramount Pictures. IMDB.

The Honeymooners (2005). Paramount Pictures. IMDB.

Jackie Gleason’s signature sitcom kept generations laughing despite lasting only one official season. Hollywood decided to bring the main character’s blue-collar bluster to the big screen, but the adaptation followed four black characters and their various shenanigans.

The studio cast Cedrick the Entertainer and Mike Epps as longtime buddies Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, while Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall co-starred as their patient wives.

The film flopped in theaters ($12 million) and drew withering responses from both critics and fans alike. The update’s 13% “rotten” rating from professional critics said it all.

“What Men Want” (2019)

What Men Want poster. BET Films. Paramount Players. IMDB.

BET Films. Paramount Players. IMDB.

It’s hard to remember a time when mainstream movie comedies made oodles of cash. The 2000 comedy “What Women Want” starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt made an astonishing, by modern standards, $182 million at U.S. theaters.

Actress Taraji P. Henson steps in for Gibson, in a film that both race and gender swaps the key characters. The reboot earned just $54 million despite higher ticket prices while drawing withering reviews.

“[Director Adam] Shankman was free to be creative and even a tiny bit profound. But instead of smarts, we get farts,” wrote The New York Post.

For what it’s worth, an Asian remake of the 2000 comedy scored a perfect 0% “rotten” score with critics.

“About Last Night” (2014)

Sony Pictures Entertainment. IMDB.

Sony Pictures Entertainment. IMDB.

The 1986 original featured Brat Packers Rob Lowe and Demi Moore and captured the ‘80s angst felt by many young Americans of the time. It was never a critical darling, but it became a title people looked back on with fondness.

The 2014 remake, once again based on David Mamet’s hit 1974 off-Broadway play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” didn’t lack for talent. Comedian-turned-film superstar Kevin Hart led a cast that included Regina Hall and Michael Ealey.

The update made a modest $46 million stateside and generated more favorable reviews. It failed to puncture the zeitgeist like the original, although it arrived at a time with far more content competition.

“The Wonder Years” (2021-2023)

ABC Entertainment. Lee Daniels Entertainment.

ABC Entertainment. Lee Daniels Entertainment.

This dramedy followed young, precocious Kevin (Fred Savage) as he navigated childhood’s speedbumps in the Flower Power era. The ‘60s story touched on contemporary issues like the Vietnam War as seen through young Kevin’s eyes. The saga lasted six seasons and briefly made young Savage a movie star. 

The race-swapped remake gave more attention to the civil rights movement due to the black family at the center of the yarn. The series lasted two seasons on ABC, and it sounds like that was a best-case scenario.

The Wonder Years ranks as the lowest-rated and least watched ABC series this summer, behind the network’s unscripted slate. It also would rank last among ABC’s series that aired during the 2022-23 season.

Critics raved about the series but their views didn’t bring many viewers to the reboot.

“Uncle Buck” (2016)

Uncle Buck (2016). ABC Signature. Will Packer Productions. Nia Long, Mike Epps, James Lesure, Sayeed Shahidi, Aalyrah Caldwell, Iman Benson. IMDB.

Uncle Buck (2016). ABC Signature. Will Packer Productions. IMDB.

John Candy’s irrepressible loser powered the great 1989 comedy, one Hollywood rebooted not once — but twice. The first version, featuring the late Kevin Meaney, lasted two seasons on the small screen.

The second TV reboot, featuring veteran comic actor Mike Epps as the lovable main character, generated weak feedback from both critics and audiences.

“Death at a Funeral” (2010)

Death at a Funeral (2010). Sony Pictures Entertainment. Screen Gems. Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, James Marsden, Luke Wilson, Peter Dinklage, Tracy Morgan, Zoe Saldana. IMDB.

Death at a Funeral (2010). Sony Pictures Entertainment. Screen Gems. IMDB.

Director Frank Oz’s 2007 dark comedy got a swift reboot with a mostly black cast. The original film leaned into classic farce, with the American director leading a mostly British cast through its paces.

That film never broke out in a meaningful way despite solid reviews but eventually earned cult classic status.

The reboot features Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Regina Hall, Keith David, and Peter Dinklage (who also starred in the original version). 

The film out-earned the original in the U.S. – $49 million to $8 million – but didn’t impress film critics (43% “Rotten”).

It’s no wonder consumers greeted Barris’ dueling, race-swapped remakes with caution. Been there, seen that, came away unimpressed.

* * *

Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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