Little Black Mermaid Haters, You Need to Let It Go
Since the news broke at the start of the 4th of July weekend that Grown-ish actress and singer Halle Bailey was going to star as redhaired vixen of the sea Ariel from The Little Mermaid, the discourse has not stopped. Is having a Black mermaid “realistic”? (Sis, mermaids ain’t real.) Is this revolutionary? (No). Is this discriminatory towards redheads? (No.) And how much of this discussion is based on real people and how much of it are bots and marketing tactics to hype up a Disney movie trying to bank on more than just the nostalgia of the original, or bots and trolls trying to fan the flames of culture war?
First and foremost, to the racists who are up in arms because they’ve had to see Archie Andrews, Iris West-Allen, Starfire, Jimmy Olsen, MJ (of a type), so many others, and now Ariel, being played by Black people and other people of color, all I can say to you use is—orange is the new Black and we’re coming for Poison Ivy next, so stay ready.
But seriously, the hubbub about Ariel’s race is the typical controversy any time they cast someone non-white in a traditionally white role. Nevermind asking if they are the right person for the job and if Ariel’s race or ethnicity has anything to do with the story (it doesn’t), but it automatically allows people to troll and talk about how this is a loss and make comparisons about “well you wouldn’t feel this way if it was Mulan/Tiana/Pocahontas.”
Mulan takes place in China and is based on a Chinese Ballad/myth. Matoaka was a real Powhatan woman. Tiana is an African-American woman and her story touches on the racism and sexism of that era.
Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid is from an unidentified part of the ocean (is she a saltwater or freshwater mermaid, who knows?) who has a Jamaican crab companion and is a bastardization of the original Danish story to begin with. There is nothing racialized about Ariel in the context of the Disney stories. She’s only white because that’s what Disney did back then. Let’s not forget that when The Little Mermaid came out, it would be three more years until there was a non-white Disney Princess in Aladdin.
Also, as this post from Freeform put it, Ariel is a fictional character and despite the emotional significance she may have to redheads, she (a) can still have red hair and be Black and (b) again, she is not real.
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An open letter to the Poor, Unfortunate Souls: ______ #TheLittleMermaid #Ariel #MyAriel
Speaking as a Disney Princess commentator: Ariel fans, do you realize that you actually got someone in your movie playing Ariel that can act and sing? I’ve seen Halle in Grown-ish and heard her sing, and she has the pipes for this role. Meanwhile, we Belle fans had to watch the monstrosity that is Hermione Granger’s Beauty and the Beast which was so, so, utterly bad that I’m still furious about it to this day. I mean, hell, the couldn’t even get an Iranian or Middle Eastern actress to play Jasmine.
Halle was chosen because: “After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role,” said Rob Marshall, the film’s director, in a statement. This demonstrates the real considerations that went into her casting that I think are important.
While I still think all these live-action remakes are a waste of time, the bare minimum they can do is try and be creative and take risks where they can. The creatives are also well enough aware that as many people will choose to say “#NotMyAriel,” there will be 10x more who will be taking their kids to this opening day.
Which brings up another issue—what is the intent behind the unceasing discourse?
this has been trending for hours
I’ll bet cash money that this was fueled, if not started, by marketing. Because that is a thing now and people still buy into it. Taking a moral stance against the “outrage” is great marketing for Disney though so… kudos. pic.twitter.com/PpxNDKHjPM
— Lindsay Ellis 🔜 VidCon (@thelindsayellis) July 5, 2019
As Lindsay Ellis brings up, Disney knows how to market these movies for audiences that are skeptical. They have created hype around Beyoncé playing Nala. Nala. A supporting role where she only gets one half of a song. They put Emma Watson in the role of Belle because on paper that made perfect sense. Will Smith as the Genie, but only showing underwhelming shots to drum up the curiosity and think pieces.
While there are certainly people out there who are racist and have no problem acting that way on social media for clout, it is also true that companies, even ones I support like Disney, have no problem having POC in front of their movies and have no support behind the scenes (Aladdin and the upcoming Mulan). I just hope that the film gives Halle the opportunity to shine and that they do their best to surround her with positivity because while this is a great opportunity it’s also taxing.
As someone who’s just a fan and in fandom, it was exhausting seeing the racist jokes and microaggressions on social media all the long weekend. It’s hurtful, and because this is something marketed to kids, those out there making images of Halle’s face on Ariel’s body with Newports cigarettes around her (something I’ve seen)—you are doing something damaging to the young people who might see that.
If she’s bad in the role, then she’ll be bad in the role, no one is going to coddle her. But just seeing that she’s Black and saying it’s ruining your childhood is a cruelty that y’all just choose not to be aware of.
Thankfully, Halle has support from people, other celebrities and, most importantly, Ariel’s mermaid daughter.
Hey @chloexhalle I just wanted you to know you I am honored to have you play my mom. I know you’ll be beyond beautiful & magical 💙💙#thelittlemermaidmovie pic.twitter.com/FYvefgLkPN
— tara strong (@tarastrong) July 5, 2019
(image: Disney/Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Essence/Edit by Author)
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