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Popeyes “Annie” not a Restaurant Founder, Just an Actress
I was waiting in line at a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen the other day while a family ordered in front of me.Coincidentally, this family of three (Mom, Dad, and son) sounded as though they were from the great state of Louisiana. Just conjecture on my part, but I would be willing to guess they had initially been evacuated to Oklahoma after the devastation of Katrina and had decided to stay.But whatever the reason, like me, they were craving spicy fried chicken, and I’d be willing to bet, dollars to donuts, they were honest to goodness Cajuns.
The father ordered as the man behind the counter punched the menu selections into the cash register.Like many of the workers at Popeyes, the gentleman behind the register was an African American.This makes sense, I suppose, Popeyes specializing in soul food with a Cajun twist.
As the father finished ordering, his son, a stocky child, probably of fourteen or fifteen years old, exclaims, “I like your commercials!” The man behind the counter pauses, measures the situation and the boy continues, “Are you in any of the commercials?I like the lady.Do you know her?”
The father grits his teeth and smiles nervously at the man, and the man’s face turns from stern to kindly.He correctly assesses the situation. This boy is learning disabled.He isn’t asking the man these questions with any underlying racisms.It just stands to reason to this kid that the man is a worker at Popeyes, so he has probably been in one of the commercials, and surely he’s met Annie, the Popeyes franchise owner.
The man working the register chuckles and says, “No, I’m not in any of the commercials,” and looking at the father continues, “I’ve not met her, but I sure need to.”
The father smiles, “Yeah, that would be one heck of a sugar momma to have.” The group has a collective laugh.
Like most people familiar with the Popeyes Franchise, the people in front of me in line, even the workers, believe Annie is the founder of Popeyes.And why wouldn’t they?In the commercials this motherly black woman speaks in a soothing southern accent about her chicken, her spices, and her restaurant. The implication is always that she is the restaurant founder.Why would the American Public think otherwise?
Deidrie Henry was born in Barbados. At an early age, she moved with her family to Atlanta, Georgia. From there she would matriculate, eventually studying to be a pilot. When that career didn’t pan out, she decided to pursue a career in acting, working in acting troupes all the way from New York to Oregon to Paris.
After moderate success on stage, Deidrie eventually earned the “role” she is best known for today, “Annie” the Popeyes lady. 1
As for Deidrie being “one heck of a sugar momma,” ArticleBio.com puts her net worth at somewhere around $1.8 million, a far cry from the hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, that the real owners of Popeyes have. 2
Early History of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen:
Popeyes was founded in Arabi, Louisiana in 1972 by a high school dropout of Caucasian decent named Al Copeland. Mr. Copeland came from humble beginnings and was a self-made and eventually self-ruined man.
Al Copeland was born in New Orleans in 1944. Copeland’s father would abandon the family a few years after his birth. As a result, Copeland’s situation was quite meager growing up, but his family would manage to get by, and though his chicken restaurant would struggle early on, the eventual decision to quit trying to compete with Kentucky Fried Chicken’s brand, instead branching off to mimic the style of hot and spicy fried chicken developed by Louisiana’s largely ethnic population, would prove very successful.
With the expansion of Popeyes came a lust for living large. Copeland would marry many times and have many children. He would fund frivolous ventures like boat racing, but also some noble ones, like education.
Eventually Copeland’s lifestyle led to some $400 million in debt, and he was forced to file bankruptcy. He would die of cancer in 2008 at the age of 64. 3,4
Did you believe Annie founded Popeyes Chicken?
Al Copeland lost Popeyes in 1992.From there, it has been owned by a couple of large, faceless, corporate entities. It was most recently purchased for around $1.8 billion in March of 2017 by Restaurant Brand International, owners of such large franchises as Burger King and Tim Horton’s.
With some 2,600 locations around the world, Popeyes has an estimated yearly revenue of $206 million, most of this revenue going to the same handful of old white men that own everything else in this country. 3,4
Annie is an Actress, so What does It Matter?
There is no fault in having a fictional spokesperson. Just look at Progressive’s Flo character, for example. Though I don’t think anybody seriously believes Flo is a bona fide insurance saleswoman, and she doesn’t go around saying everything is hers.
And I’ve also seen where people have tried to skew the Popeyes Annie character as somehow a racist stereotype. I don’t find that to be accurate, either. Her word choice is clear and coherent, and quite frankly, a good representation of how many people from Louisiana speak, regardless of ethnicity.
It isn’t even wrong that the actress who plays Annie isn’t a real Louisianan. Actors and actresses are called upon to play roles different than their specific backgrounds all the time.
So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that the Annie character perpetuates the lie that the American dream still exists in this country. That there is still any real hope for upward mobility. First, the Annie character is humble. She doesn’t reek of money or the silver spoon. She’s one of us! Second, the Annie character is black. She appears to be an African American who has finally been able to generate success off the culinary ingenuity of her beleaguered culture. And third, she’s a woman. Women are the most blatantly discriminated against group in this country. To see a woman accomplish what Annie has and at a fairly early age, it would be inspiring if it were true.
Colonel Sanders was a real man, a product of extreme poverty. On the old commercials he talks about his chicken because it is his chicken! Though the Colonel may have gotten boxed out a bit towards the end, he was a founder. Dave Thomas was another rags to riches founder/spokesperson.
Annie is a figment of the imagination. A tipping of the cap to a bygone era when the wealthy were allowed to occasionally fail and the downtrodden could take their place. And not even that, because with almost no exceptions, women, especially women of color, have never been allowed to succeed in business.
The problem isn’t that Popeyes pretends to have a heart and soul when it doesn’t. All big business does that. McDonald’s, Burger King, whatever. They all pretend to care about their communities and line their pockets while their employees starve to death. At least we know the American Dream they’re selling is a lie, or at least we should.
When we see Annie as she is portrayed, as a “real person,” we think that there is hope for the rest of us. We think that maybe we just need to try a little harder. That the system isn’t broke. That there is equality and decency in the world. And the longer they can keep us believing this lie, the longer they can keep stealing everything.
1. imbd.com, Deidrie Henry
2. articlebio.com, Deidrie Henry
3. Wikiperdia.org, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
4. Wikipedia.org, Al Copeland