Why people are floundered by Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid

By Rachida Harper on July 21, 2019

“Betcha on land, they understand. Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters…,” Princess Ariel of Disney’s The Little Mermaid sang as she dreamed of trading in her tail for feet to explore the land on shore. Little did she know, many people lack understanding and choose to reprimand others because of their differences.

Even though the storyline is purely fictional, Disney’s decision to cast actress-singer Halle Bailey as Ariel for the upcoming live-action movie has brought backlash because she is black.

“After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that 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 in an official statement according to Variety.

Following a tweet made by Marshall announcing the news came a streak of unmannerly responses.

“Hate you! I hate you, you ruined my favorite movie and my favorite princess, the girl is not to blame, you are for being part of the staff,” said one Twitter user while another responded with simply “Not my Ariel.”

Image provided by Unsplash.com

The discussion led to #NotMyAriel trending on Twitter, where more upset fans were able to share their opinions about the casting choice. A common argument made was that the Disney princess is meant to be white with red hair because of the way she is depicted in the 1989 film.

Jodi Benson, the original voice of Ariel, shared her concerns about the backlash during a Florida Supoercon convention. according to Comic Book.

“We need to be storytellers. And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story,” Benson said. “So, I know for Disney that they have the heart of storytelling, that’s really what they’re trying to do. They want to communicate with all of us in the audience so that we can fall in love with the film again.”

The Little Mermaid is actually not the original product of Disney, but because of its talent for storytelling, the company has been able to help its audience fantasize for decades. In Hans Christian Andersen’s story, the mermaid is described as “the prettiest of them all; her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose-leaf, and her eyes as blue as the deepest sea.” Not once is a name, race or hair color described. Disney has incorporated missing details in its films once before and has the freedom to do it again for the live-action.

Freeform, owned by Walt-Disney Television, said it best in an Instagram post:

“Yes. The original author of ‘The Little Mermaid’ was Danish. Ariel…is a mermaid. She lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can legit swim wherever she wants…But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Ariel, too, is Danish. Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black… Black Danish people, and thus mer-folk, can also *genetically* (!!!) have red hair. But spoiler alert…the character of Ariel is a work of fiction. So, after all, this is said and done, and you still cannot get past the idea that choosing…Halle Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that it is because she ‘doesn’t look like the cartoon one’, oh boy, do I have some news for you…about you.”

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