The Little Mermaid Controversy
One of the biggest things to happen to Disney recently has made a headline on every social media platform.
The new live-action The Little Mermaid movie will be in the theatre next year on May 26. But everyone is already talking about the big buzz about the main character, Ariel, being portrayed by a black actress, Halle Bailey.
Halle and her older sister Chloe began singing and writing songs at ages 10 and 8. They had minor roles in movies such as Disney’s original movie, Let it Shine, and have also appeared on the Ellen show and were crowned by Disney as the Next Big Thing in December 2012. However, it was their singing and doing cover songs on YouTube that got them real attention.
Their rendition of Beyonce’s song “Pretty Hurts” went viral in December 2013 on YouTube and even got Beyonce’s attention. Halle Bailey and Chloe Bailey were acknowledged by Beyonce and signed to her music label, Parkwood Entertainment, in 2015. The two sisters are talented singers and have been making music on YouTube since 2011.
Since their signing, the sisters have made several accomplishments. Chloe and Halle both made their professional debut on April 29, 2016, as a duo and have been Grammy-nominated. They both also played a recurring role on the show “Grown-ish” and even made the theme song for the show. Chloe’s solo career began in 2021 with the song “Have Mercy.” Now Halle has taken the title of a new leading actress in a classic Disney film.
In July 2019, Halle will record and perform the soundtrack for the upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid by ultimately being cast as the main character, Princess Ariel.
This is a great opportunity for Halle and a great move by Disney to cast her in the role. But there is controversy around this newly cast role. What’s the issue here?
By casting Halle, Disney’s Ariel, the lead character in the Little Mermaid, is now an African American character, with many expressing their concerns. Some Disney fans have even argued about changing the race of classic Disney characters, including even trying to reverse the reasoning by wondering why characters like the Louisiana Creole Princess Tiana, the first African-American Disney princess, couldn’t be White.
The Disney franchise is considered just “kid-stuff” or fantasy or a cartoon, but the issue of race is still deep-rooted here.
Why does the race of a mermaid matter? And who really gets to determine the race of a mermaid? Who can say mermaids aren’t blue, purple, or green? The truth behind this controversy is what I want to uncover in this article.
The Comments Made
On social media platforms, many have used the #NotMyAriel to get the role of Ariel re-casted and tried to get others to sign an online petition. Many argued that an African American in the role of Ariel was “unfaithful to the original character.”
On Twitter, there were a few people who made comments disagreeing with Halle Bailey playing Princess Ariel.
One commenter posts: “some people are going to hate for me for this… They picked a beautiful black woman to play Ariel in The Little Mermaid live-action remake……. Not really sure how I feel about this #JustSaying #MixedFeelings”.
Another one posts: “The little mermaid was written as White, was White in the film, was based in Denmark and based on a European fairytale, but it casts a black…. How is this not racist and cultural appropriation? If this were the other way around, those celebrating would be boycotting. #Ariel #Halle”.
A third one posts: “I’m black, I’m upset. It was clear as day Arial [Ariel] was white. I mean, come on, people would be mad if they got Miley Cyrus to play Tiana in Princess in the Frog [The Princess and the Frog]”.
Historically, conversations about race have always been “sticky.” From the historical figures we all know, it’s hard to identify what someone’s race truly was in the past because of the lack of evidence, research, or even pictures to document someone’s race.
Cleopatra was a Black woman but was portrayed as White. Jesus was reportedly supposed to be darker but is portrayed by several men with lighter skin.
Unsurprisingly, what is historically correct is ultimately difficult to track down. Some races or characteristics change over time due to biases and personal interests. Some racial changes to major historical figures may be because of less genuine or racist reasons. Rarely intentions to change a race of a figure/character are good.
The race is subject to change, whether it be a historical figure or a Disney character.
Why Does All of this Matter?
Although the situation is focused on a light-hearted American classic film, the problem stems back to the age-old political and social issue of racism in America. People in 2022 still get mad and outraged by situations involving race.
Knowing that Disney has such a huge reach on all kids, big and small, I congratulate Disney on taking this step. However, Disney is no stranger to controversy. They have made their mistakes regarding race before, just like many others.
So, should Disney start changing all of their famous characters’ races? Well, context and intentions matter. If it’s for the purpose of diversification, then yes. But to change simply because of ignorance and lack of research, then no.
One thing I know will come out of this live-action film is that Black girls and girls of color worldwide will feel a sense of belonging and representation in Disney films.
For this taking that action - Disney, we applaud you.
Tell us what you think and why?