If you’ve been on the Internet for even a few hours this week, you’re probably wondering what the fuss against a live-action mermaid Disney film primarily for children is all about. People aren’t just unhappy about Ariel not being portrayed by a non-white, non-blue-eyed, non-fire-red-haired actor; people are unhappy about a young African-American woman being cast as the Mermaid they grew up with and came to love, claiming the casting was a peculiar choice.
The longstanding debate about whether or not Disney is pandering to the left by casting Halle Bailey in the Live-action version of The Little Mermaid started in 2019. People claimed a dark-skinned mermaid was scientifically inaccurate since mermaids usually live in the deep sea. This would limit their exposure to sunlight, making their skin extremely fair or even translucent. Petitioners on the Internet started a #notmyAriel trend to protest against this casting choice. What they failed to acknowledge was that the concept of mermaids itself is scientifically inaccurate and that logic doesn’t always apply to fairytales for children.
The Little Mermaid originally was an 1837 short story by Hans Christian Andersen. The story was an allegory – a queer man’s tale of his unrequited love for his male friend. People – including grown right-winged political commentators‘ rush to claim the live-action remake is a historical inaccuracy fails to address this narrative – the original narrative. The Disney version also places Ariel’s home in the middle of the North Atlantic sea, giving her a Greek and Mediterranean heritage. This doesn’t explain why Ariel has to be Caucasian. The film also features Ursula, a character inspired by Drag Queens. However, casting Melissa McCarthy, a cisgender straight woman for the part drew no backlash. Maybe then, it was for the “sake of art”.
The official trailer for the film received more than a million dislikes. People have even used AI to replace Bailey’s face with that of a white woman with red hair. However, Halle Bailey is a trained singer, surely the right choice for a musical.
The Internet is also angry about a recent LOTR series – The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power replacing white fictional characters with fictional characters of colour. The Amazon series cast African-American and Asians while author J R R Tolkien described his Middle Earth characters as white. This, of course, was obvious; Tolkien wrote the books in the 1950s.
Disney has never been inherently “woke”, with the recent no-gay controversy and many accusations of blackface in the past. The multi-billion dollar conglomerate, unlike most others, ultimately prioritizes business. And if business means being “woke” or diversity click baits without actual action, they might just follow through. Corporations have, for a while, capitalized on the call for increased racial, gender-based, and queer representation in mainstream media. This doesn’t always guarantee a contribution to the cause itself, with several corporations often missing the mark with their “new-age” marketing campaigns. However, Disney has and will continue to be ethereal for most of its target audience – children who believe in the power of love and magic. If the move to cast a non-white actor as the lead was calculated; if the representation made thousands of little children of colour happy, then so be it.