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September 25, 2023

Reflecting on the recent racist backlash against “The Little Mermaid”

Thumbnail from “The Little Mermaid – Official Teaser Trailer” video from posted by Walt Disney Studios on Sep. 9, 2022

Comments over Disney’s casting choices have flooded social media since the release of the first official teaser trailer for the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” earlier this month. The highly anticipated remake of the classic 1989 animated film is set to hit theaters in May 2023, and some fans are not hesitating to express their distaste for the casting of popular black singer and actress, Halle Bailey, as Ariel in the upcoming film.
Halle Bailey is best known for being half of the popular R&B duo, Chloe x Halle, with her sister Chloe Bailey. However, Halle Bailey has also maintained an acting career, acting in many movies and television shows, like the 2006 romantic comedy, “Last Holiday,” and the popular television series, “Grown-ish.” Additionally, Bailey is set to be one of the leading roles in a musical film adaptation of author Alice Walker’s classic novel, “The Color Purple,” which will be released in December 2023.
With Halle Bailey’s talent and ongoing experience in acting and singing, many think that she would be perfect for the live-action role of a Disney Princess. However, critics claim that their issue with the casting isn’t about her skillset, but rather the color of her skin. CNN reporter, AJ Willingham (2022), explains that one of the main arguments people are using to protest the casting choice is that “making Ariel black is ruining childhoods and changing the character.” Racist critics believe Bailey looks “nothing like” the fictional mermaid, Ariel, in the 1989 animated film where the character is drawn as a white mermaid with bright red hair and blue eyes (Sharf, 2022).
Some are even going as far as to argue with the historical accuracy of casting a black actress for the role of a mermaid. The story of “The Little Mermaid” is based on a story written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen called, “Den Lille Havfrue,” first published in 1837 (Myrna, 2022). Critics are using this story to argue that not casting a woman who looks Danish, or white, is untrue to the original story.
Rolling Stone’s reporter, EJ Dickson (2022), responds to these arguments by stating, “of course, the original version of the story involves Ariel cutting her tongue in exchange for feet that bleed constantly when she’s on land, and ends with her dissolving into sea foam after she considers stabbing Prince Eric and his new wife to death; in the Andersen story, she also has green skin.”
On top of this, some critics are challenging the scientific correctness of a mermaid, who being underwater, isn’t exposed to sunlight, and therefore cannot produce the melanin necessary to have dark skin (Allen, 2019).
Halle Bailey doesn’t seem to be allowing the criticism surrounding the film to take away from her excitement. She recently posted a tweet in response to the Disney trailer release for the film which stated: “today has been so overwhelming and incredible… i’m so happy you’re getting to see a peek of everything…thank you for the love…” (Halle, 2022a). She has also expressed how “truly in awe” she is from seeing the excited reactions of young black girls to seeing a black Ariel in the new trailer (Halle, 2022b).
Aside from the backlash, many Disney fans are still very eager to see the reimagining of this Disney Princess as she transforms from a 2D form to a live-action mermaid, and cannot wait for the film to hit the big screen next year.

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Madison Akers, Asst. Opinion Editor
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