As a millennial sitting on the cusp of ever-changing fields of politics and society, I’ve always felt personally responsible for forming well-educated opinions while keeping an open mind to other viewpoints.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the storm brought on by Disney’s rendition of a classic fairy tale centering around a love-struck mermaid princess.
I’m talking of course about the recent “scandal” involving Disney’s live-action version of the Little Mermaid movie, where actress Halle Bailey was cast in place of the atypical fair-featured model common in Disney stories.
While many see this as a huge milestone in colour-blind casting, others were up in arms, claiming the decision was made to appease “PC” culture and was inaccurate to the original Disney film.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid is based on the Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Anderson. It featured an eccentric, red-haired, blue-eyed mermaid princess who desired nothing more than to fall in love with her prince and see a new world outside of her own. After a harrowing adventure, she would fall in love and live happily ever after.
But, if accuracy is the issue taken with the warm-featured Bailey, then the first and biggest offense would be Disney’s version of the movie – not their decision to cast a black woman for the lead.
The original story does indeed centre around a young, 15-year-old mermaid who falls in love with a prince from afar. In order to be with him, she goes to her grandmother, a sea witch, and exchanges her tongue and voice for human legs.
While the spell works, the little mermaid is doomed to feel as though she is walking on knives with every step she takes, and rather falling in love with the prince of her dreams, he falls for another woman. The heartbroken mermaid then casts herself into the sea, becoming the foam on the waves and an earthbound, air spirit.
This is the original story in a nutshell, which doesn’t include singing fish and lobsters nor the light-hearted tale with an expected happy ending. It forgoes the plots of murder, agony, and religious connotations in place of a happier tale that appealed to Disney’s audience at the time with little complaint.
So why is there so much uproar about the casting of a black woman as Ariel?
Perhaps it’s simply because audiences are simply attached to Disney’s first rendition of the fairy tale, which featured a white fictional half-fish, half-human girl. Or, perhaps more likely, the issue is the unsettling state of current politics.
The ongoing battle between left and right-wing beliefs in the midst of ongoing cultural changes – such as, but not limited to, increasing diversity and inclusion for all people - has stirred up feelings on both sides.
While concerns for “over-sensitizing” our generation is in the forefront of the “anti-black-Ariel” argument, we have to grant SOME merit to their side.
If we wanted to raise the race issue, people opposed to Bailey playing the red-headed fictional mermaid icon could argue that simply casting Ariel as a black woman is lazy, instead opting to simply replace traditionally white characters with black characters instead of creating unique a whole new, unique character and storyline.
However, we’re completely disregarding the fact that Bailey very well has simply been the best candidate, especially considering a very important aspect of the mermaid princess in both Anderson’s and Disney’s is that she has a stunning singing voice. Considering Bailey has a background in singing, this does indeed make her a possibly ideal candidate for the role who’s race was otherwise disregarded as being relevant by the casting director.
So … what is the real issue here? To be honest, one could say it’s racism, some could say it’s fear of over-sensitizing our generation. If you ask me, I’d say it’s people putting too much of their power into things that don’t matter.
Yes, Ariel being black is NOT a big deal. The issue isn’t that the movie isn’t accurate because Disney’s version of the fairy tale isn’t “accurate” either – it’s a rendition of something great created into something which was meant to appeal to its current audience. Like it or not, people want to see more diversity in film and television, and Disney is making a wise decision in not limiting themselves and exploring a wider variety of casting potential.
At the end of the day, it isn’t going to hurt anyone, though I do somewhat sympathize with those who held the Disney movie close to their hearts. Perhaps it’s simply upsetting to not see the version of the movie you hoped for – i.e. featuring a while, blue-eyed, red-haired actress play your favourite fishy princess.
I will point out, though, that there were few complaints when Jason Mamoa was cast as Aquaman … who was a blonde, white superhero capable of communicating with the ocean. Just saying.
If this upset or offended you, I wish I could say I cared, but I don’t. This whole argument is frankly silly and I really wish people could put as much energy into the anti-black-Ariel nonsense and into something that actually has an impact.
That’s all I have to say.