The Little Mermaid: Representation over racism

The Little Mermaid: Representation over racism

@emileeechurch on Instagram

Nathan Perera, Staff Writer

The release of Disney’s teaser for the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” submerged the film in racist controversy following the decision to cast Halle Bailey, a Black woman, as Ariel. Although the film does not come out until May 26, waves of backlash over casting Bailey flooded the internet, revealing the horrendous degree of racism that deters Black talent in film. Many criticisms of the film are transparently racist attempts to undermine the positive impact the film has on young Black children who’ll see themselves represented.

If anything, the controversy reflects how bigoted people refuse to accept and appreciate Black actors at the forefront of the film industry.

Bailey was cast because of her indisputable embodiment of the mermaid princess — her gorgeous vocals and confident aura fit the role perfectly.

“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,” director Rob Marshall said during Disney’s annual expo D23.

Though many praised the casting of Bailey as a positive step towards more inclusivity in Disney franchises, racists denied that Ariel could be played by a Black woman. The teaser release incited blatantly racist reactions, including problematic hashtags such as #NotMyAriel and a tremendous surge of hateful Youtube comments.

One of the most nonsensical arguments is that the remake is “ruining the childhoods” of those who grew up with the original film, even going as far as claiming Ariel is “ginger representation” when neither her hair color nor race has relevance to the story.

Claims questioning the historical accuracy of the film circulated the internet as well, yet those complaining the remake is too different from the first film are oblivious to Hans Christian Andersen’s original “Little Mermaid” story, which centers around themes of violence and tragedy. Mermaids aren’t exclusive to European folklore either; the West African myth of the Mami Wata water spirit is one of many stories from across the world featuring mermaid-like creatures.

Regardless, it is important to focus on the impact of casting a Black woman as Ariel, considering the oversaturation of White stories in Disney’s film catalog. Heartwarming videos of young Black girls excitedly reacting to the teaser went viral on Tiktok. Another Black Disney princess has been long overdue since Tiana debuted in 2009 — the representation in the revitalized “Little Mermaid” will teach a new generation of kids messages of self-love and embracing identity.

The “Little Mermaid” controversy is another disappointing portrait of the racist treatment Black talent receives from bigoted people who refuse to appreciate Black talent being spotlighted in media.

Grown adults upset over a children’s film should not detract from the importance of Bailey’s monumental casting, which serves as the beginning of a new era where family-oriented media is diverse and teaches children the value of inclusivity.