The Little Mermaid under controversea

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A beautiful sculpture, yet someone somewhere is probably mad right now about how it misrepresents history. BreakDownPictures via Pixabay

People on the internet are mad about a fictional character not looking the way they wanted her to

by ayodipupo adetola, contributor

Disney’s recent live-action remake is making waves on the internet due to their casting decision. Namely, this version of Ariel is to be portrayed by Halle Bailey: an accomplished songstress, actress, and small business owner. However, Halle happens to be Black, which is a cardinal sin on the internet.

According to various Twitter[1] screeds, Halle is taking red-haired representation from little redheaded girls. Never mind that Anna (Frozen, Frozen II) and Merida (Brave) still exist, and that’s only if we’re strictly referring to Disney “princesses.” There’s also Giselle of Enchanted, Jessie from Toy Story, and Megara from Hercules. I could name more, but the definition of ‘red’ hair can be subjective, so I’ll stick to the indisputable ones. And of course, even in this remake, she still has red hair.

Meanwhile, little Black girls have one such character representing them: Tiana. But that’s completely fine[2]. For context, red-haired people represent about 2 per cent of the world’s population, while Black people represent about 17 per cent. So, if we really wanted to be fair, we’d need approximately 44 more Black Disney princesses as leads before it would be proportional[3]. But, naturally, the people that are all mad about this casting decision wouldn’t like such a natural solution because the outrage isn’t really about red hair. The problem, they claim, is ‘blackwashing’ or ‘racebending’.

Suffice to say, I do not find this to be a good reason. These people rant and rave and pose the question: “what if we replaced POC characters with White actors?” As if that hasn’t been a problem for centuries and up till and including now. One need only take a look at the Wikipedia page for ‘whitewashing’ in cinema to see where the real problem lies. The entire concept of blackface and yellowface makes it difficult to see why this particular casting bothers people so much.

Did these people have the same energy when Sir Laurence Olivier played Othello? Or when Mickey Rooney played a (very offensive) caricature of a Japanese man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Or the more recent examples of White actors portraying characters of colour (namely Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, Justin Chatwin, Johnny Depp…)? NO, the arguments made for these castings were that they were the best suited to said roles, and that merit matters more than race. Assuming that is true, ipso facto, there should then be no problem with Ariel’s casting either. Unfortunately, that sound logic hasn’t stopped folks on the internet.

The reality is that people are very angry. The trailer for The Little Mermaid received a whopping 1.5 million dislikes in only 2 days after its release. Amazingly, one Twitter user even made an AI to replace Bailey in the trailer with a White, red-haired actress, and promised to do so for the entire film once it releases in 2023. This is, of course, a completely normal, mature adult’s reaction to a children’s movie[4] about a mythical creature.

Some say that this casting is disrespectful of the Danish origin of the story. In that case, they should then be pretty angry that Sebastian is apparently a singing Jamaican lobster, which I’m sure aren’t native to Denmark. I also feel that it must be said – mermaids aren’t real[5]. Others argue that the casting is a calculated move, just like the remake itself: using nostalgia and recent social justice movements to get as much money as possible, and that Disney is devoid of creativity.

I actually more or less agree with this. I think that the remakes are soulless travesties and that there is no lack of old children’s stories to rip off to make a buck. Disney has hit pay dirt with this trend, taking their old properties and making them again, except they’re worse since they don’t have the charm of the old animation[6] and the stories aren’t changing majorly, so there isn’t any novelty. But their diehard fans will still pay to watch them.

In conclusion…? I’m not entirely sure what my point is anymore. But to summarize:

Disney’s ‘live-action’ remakes are creatively bankrupt.

The people mad about the casting are (mostly) just mad racists.

Don’t support these remakes because then Disney will keep making them.

Most importantly: making Ariel Black in this particular movie doesn’t fundamentally change anything about her character. Disney isn’t going to go around to everyone’s house with guns, take back copies of the original animated film, and burn them in front of your children at the town square; it’s still there. No one has to watch this remake. In fact, part of me is conflicted – on principle, I want to tell everyone not to watch it (because Disney can get bent), but on the other hand, it would really piss off the racists on Twitter if it did well. Decisions, decisions…


[1] I looked through the Twitter feeds of all the people complaining (and will not link them) but suffice to say they are not what you would call the target demographic of this (or any) Disney movie, which makes one ponder their motive…

[2] This is NOT fine. Even typing that annoyed me.

[3] For the math lovers here, I’ll show my math. First of all, I used the upper bounds of percentage for red hair. The official number I got from BBC was 1-2% so I was generous and used 2%. For Black population I got around 17.5%. Now to count red-haired characters, I named 5. I’m not counting Ariel because apparently making her Black removes the ‘red hair’ feature and I’m going to use the arguments of the complainers to be fair to them. Next I found the apparent ‘representation number’ by dividing these 5 characters by their population percentage: 5/2= 2.5. So that means 2 and a half characters per percentage of the population. I then multiplied this by the Black population: 17.5*2.5 = 43.75. I rounded up since you can’t very well have 75% of a character (unless you were getting into mixed-race characters and such, but realistically mixed characters are counted as Black anyway…) making 44.

[4] This is sarcasm. Only a (not to be insensitive) literal insane person would do this. This is derangement of the highest order.

[5] Or I should specify: they have not been proven to be real as of 2022. (Just future proofing this article)

[6] Yes, I’m referring specifically to the Lion King. I want my ticket money back. And to be technical, that wasn’t even ‘live action’, it was just CGI lions. What was the point of reanimating it if the expressions were going to be realistic?? Lions don’t make expressions in real life, just like they don’t do elaborate musical numbers or orchestrate Shakespeare-esque coups! And also, they put ‘Can you feel the love tonight’ during the day. That’s just stupid.

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