For the heroine of the children’s classic “Anne of Green Gables,” a plucky attitude made up for her stark surroundings, red hair, freckles, and thin, pale complexion. Apparently, Netflix decided that when it comes to its upcoming Anne series… that premise just isn’t nice enough to look at. At least not in the promotional material for the series, as the newly-debuted poster suggests. Fans instantly noticed some striking differences when comparing Netflix’s branded poster to the original artwork for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) version, where the show is currently airing.
It’s not the first time that a studio or marketing firm has decided that an actress or actor was in need of some touch-ups, airbrushing, or ‘enhancements’ of one sort or another for its marketing. Or, that two different marketing teams took differing approaches which highlighted those tweaks. But when the actress in question is a child, playing an even younger child defined by being not traditionally beautiful, the more “appealing” angle has rubbed fans the wrong way – while giving a fairly inaccurate sense of L.M. Montgomery’s actual story.
The changes are impossible to dispute, and problematic – if not downright creepy – for a number of reasons. For starters, as mentioned above, the physical description of Anne Shirley, the main character of the book series plays a significant role in the actual plot (her hair, freckles, and build make her less desirable as an orphan). Even without diving into the changes made to the actress, the color scheme, sunny landscape, and overall ‘warmth’ of Netflix’s poster might actually be the opposite message of the series itself (not just the story of an orphan, but this particular adaptation’s own color grading and tone).
Finally, the changes made to the now 15 year-old Irish-Canadian actress Amybeth McNulty have struck some fans and critics as, in the best case, as problematic or offensive as any change to an actress’s appearance would be. At its worst, well… it’s uncomfortable, to say the least.
The addition of color to McNulty’s complexion, and the decreased visibility of her freckles may be the least offensive choices, if the clearest mishandling of the character’s most recognizable traits. Yet that can be somewhat credited to the shift in color, with Netflix’s marketing selecting a sun-washed, yellow hue adding color to every part of the image. The decision to minimize lines from beneath her eyes, smooth the skin and contouring of her brow and chin, and thereby give McNulty the smaller eyes, and proportions of what appears to be an older girl are not so easy to dismiss.
Obviously, the decision to present McNulty in a harsher light, noticeably under-edited, if anything, in the CBC artwork has heightened the difference. But comparing that image to the show itself, it is a more accurate depiction of McNulty, including the features and personality that likely landed her the highly coveted role. It’s also a more accurate depiction of the series, favoring a more de-saturated, cooler color palate (allowing the landscape and scenery of Canada’s Prince Edward Island to appear both beautiful and intimidating, reflecting Anne’s own story within it).
Netflix has yet to respond to the criticism, which is to be expected. While some have begun to vocally, and enthusiastically criticize the platform for its work, it’s still unclear if this is merely the result of some overzealous artists. A cute girl in a saturated, pastoral setting is nothing new to Netflix, nor the specific genre of classic children’s novel adaptations, either. The fact that Anne Shirley isn’t usually lumped in with most of those heroine may be the biggest reason fans have made their feelings known.
What shouldn’t be overshadowed in this mess is that the story pulls attention away from the accomplished cinematography, casting, performances, and humor of the series. That cast is led fearlessly by McNulty, so regardless of which poster or color she’s played against, her future is bright.
Anne is currently broadcast on CBC, and will arrive on Netflix on May 12, 2017.