Linnea Mayo ’26
In July of 2019, the live action remake of the classic Disney movie Little Mermaid was announced, with young Black actress and singer Halle Bailey cast as the lead Ariel. After Covid delays, the official premiere date for the Little Mermaid is now May 26, 2023. Since the 2010 Alice in Wonderland live action premiered, Disney has adapted several of their classics into modern reenactments, all of which have been extremely successful.
Considering the Little Mermaid was one of my favorite Disney princess films growing up, you can imagine my excitement when I first heard the news. This is one of the first times we’ve seen a Disney princess portrayed by a Black lead. This form of representation is incredibly important, and why it’s especially disappointing that amongst this praise, the casting of a Black woman created great controversy from the public.
Soon after the announcement, hashtags like #notmyariel began spreading around social media, with people finding various ways to argue that Ariel should not be Black. Not only is this diminishing the film and the hard work put into it, it’s insinuating that Black people do not belong in the film industry. In an attempt to mask their racism, many have claimed that Ariel must be true to Hans Christian Andersen’s original 1989 Little Mermaid, which means being Dutch, White and having red hair. However, Ariel is a fictional underwater mermaid, and her background has never included any cultural or historical significance that would hinder her from being Black. People are lacking a valid argument against things like the storytelling, acting, or production of the film, which are arguably more critical when analyzing a film.
When a person of color is cast in a traditionally white role, people are always quick to make racist critiques when it should be a moment of celebration. For decades people of color, especially women of color, have been significantly underrepresented in casts, as directors, and as writers. The controversy over a Black Ariel is just another example of people disrespecting and hating on Black women, especially the success of a Black woman.
Despite the criticism, Bailey’s role already seems to be inspiring the next generation of Black children. Following the trailer release in September 2022, videos were going viral of young Black girls eagerly reacting. Seeing someone who looks like you on screen is not only empowering but shows that truly anything is possible. This film could be the catalyst for greater diversity within the film industry, which is especially valuable in large corporations like Disney. In fact, after the official trailer premiered at the 2023 Academy Awards, it reached more than 108 million global views within a day.
Ultimately, people have every right to critique a film, but if your only comment is about the color of the main character’s skin, it’s time you re-evaluate your discomfort and appreciate the impact this representation can have.