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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Casting a black Little Mermaid is another breakthrough for Disney

The official movie poster for the original “The Little Mermaid” which premiered in 1989. Halle Bailey, a 19-year-old singer and actress, was recently cast as Ariel in the live-action remake. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Long red locks of hair, a green tail and a purple shell bra can easily match the description of Disney princess Ariel from the 1989 movie, “The Little Mermaid.” I grew up watching the award-winning movie as a little girl. I remember other girls in elementary school dressing as Ariel for Halloween and having her image on their lunch boxes and t-shirts. Even as a Hispanic, I still dressed up as white Disney characters, like Tinker Bell from “Peter Pan” and Jesse from “Toy Story” for Halloween as a child.

Girls of every race express their love for all Disney princesses. When princesses of different races appeared onscreen — such as Hawaiian princess, Moana, and black princess, Tiana — I would still see girls of all ethnicities representing the colored princesses. 

On July 3, Disney announced on their Facebook page that black 19-year-old rhythm and blues singer and actress, Halle Bailey, will be playing princess Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” live-action remake. Once fans heard the news, the trend #notmyariel emerged on Twitter and struck controversy

I first heard the news on Facebook, and before even reading the comments, I knew I was happy, but others wouldn’t be. Disney’s post was filled with comments from users that varied from supportive to negative. The most reacted to comment has over 7,000 reactions and, of course, is a negative one: “She’s beautiful, but she’s not the Little Mermaid. Make her Princess Tiana and bring Madeleine Petsch to play Ariel, way better,” Facebook user, Mariana Brito, said. 

Other highly reacted to comments positively supported the actress’ new role and expressed that a mermaid is a mermaid no matter what her skin or hair color is. No information has been released yet, whether Bailey will wear a red wig or not, but it shouldn’t matter. 

So let’s take a moment and analyze this for a second. When Angelina Jolie, a white actress, played an afro-Cuban woman, that’s okay and acceptable. Yet, when the roles are reversed, controversy ensues. Personally, being a Hispanic woman, I would not be too happy if an iconic Hispanic character — in a movie or on television — was portrayed by a white person. But hey, if the role fits, then let them go for it. 

This same situation applies to Bailey. Yes, she is a black woman playing a white role, but this needs to be more widely accepted for a number of reasons. Ariel was never based on a real person or storyline, it’s a cartoon. She is also human for half the movie, while the other half she was a mermaid. Therefore, since the character was always fictionalized, it can be made out to whatever you want it to be. 

Bailey being cast for the role is also a step in the right direction for Hollywood because, in the past few years, whitewashing movie roles had become the norm. However, it’s not a new concept. It has existed since the 20th century, which included blackfacing, and despite the changing times, it’s still an occurrence in the industry. 

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)  published its Hollywood Diversity report in February 2019, breaking down the statistics of diversity in Hollywood’s acting industry, including minorities and women. The study found that minorities are often underrepresented in different sub employment groups, such as film leads, writers and directors. It was also noted that movies with casts that consisted of 31% to 40% minorities, boosted ticket sales at the box office. Minorities also made up for the majority of ticket sales for five out of the top 10 films in 2017. 

Aside from minorities making more money for movies and drawing in a bigger audience, it goes back to simply being right for the role. Bailey is qualified for the role. She is part of a duo R&B group with her older sister, Chloe Bailey, called Chloe x Halle. The sisters also have a million-dollar contract with Beyoncé. On the other hand, in terms of acting experience, she is most known for her appearance as Sky on Freeform’s Grown-ish (Chloe x Halle covered the theme song), as well as being featured in an episode of Disney’s Austin and Ally. 

Personally, I have no problem having a black little mermaid. The original “Little Mermaid” was made in the ’80s. In today’s society, equally accepting those of all backgrounds and genders is a thing. 

Casting Halle Bailey is an effort from Disney to not whitewash their cast. Halle Bailey has a beautiful voice, physique and great acting techniques. Stop saying she’s #notmymermaid because she’s #mymermaid.

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