The Little Mermaid Backlash

The live-action Disney classic has became a controversial topic.


Photo courtesy of Halle Bailey

Halle Bailey at the Lion King red carpet event.

Raven Knowles, Staff Writer

Since it was revealed that singer Halle Bailey had been hired in Disney’s most recent live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid”, criticism has surrounded the project. The internet has been inundated with racist haters protesting that Ariel, the utterly fictional underwater fish woman, should not be black. While nostalgic fans typically have something negative to say about Disney’s mediocre remakes, this time, the response is blatantly racist, with all of the anger directed at the choice of a non-white actress to play the lead mermaid. One group of critics even went so far as to share a digitally altered version of the teaser that featured a White woman in place of the movie’s star Bailey, who they called a “woke actress,” along with hashtags like “#notmyariel”. Youtube hid the dislike counter on the official video after it was inundated with racist comments and more than 1.5 million dislikes.

By now, we are aware that anytime a person of color is cast in a part that’s thought of as “traditionally” White, racist reactions are frequently observed. Although there are many valid reasons to detest a film, these reviewers frequently conceal their unease behind other flimsy justifications, such as historical or cultural correctness or, of all things, science. People are disputing whether a new, dark-skinned Ariel in some way contradicts or overwrites the vintage 1989 image on message boards and comment sections all over the internet. Disney’s 1989 “The Little Mermaid” is still accessible for viewing, purchasing and sharing. Disney’s immensely successful “Disney Princess” brand includes the cartoon heroine Ariel, whose name and likeness are valuable and widely copyrighted Disney products. While toxic fandom has been a problem for numerous years, one has to question how we got here. How did we get to the point when thousands of mature men are outraged about a film aimed at eight-year-old girls?. There is plenty to dislike about nostalgic culture, but from Disney’s standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to relive their golden years.

“People seem to think that Ariel’s brown skin somehow detracts from the character as a whole. For the record, Ariel’s race has no bearing on any of the plot elements. The story would still be the same no matter what race she was,” Sophomore Faith Joseph said. Regardless of the fact that these films lack the brilliant energy, color, and expressiveness of their animated counterparts, people would eagerly take their children to see them in theaters in the hopes of recapturing some of that youthful enchantment. When 90’s kids watched The Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata and The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, the worst they were subjected to was a shoddily made animation, rather than a frenzy of feverish discourse around race and gender that regurgitates “great replacement” talking points. Bailey has responded to racial outrage over her portrayal as Ariel “I dedicated so much time, blood, sweat, and tears into this work for this film and in the process, I learned so much about myself,” Bailey told viewers in a video posted on her YouTube channel. She then stated that she was, “way timider” at the beginning of filming, explaining, “I felt like I grew with Ariel’s character in a way … I think that was the biggest takeaway for me, just to believe in myself and know that I’m worthy.” Bailey went on to address backlash surrounding the film, saying, “And even still today with all of the commentary and people’s opinions going on, it just reminds me to be number one: grounded, and grateful that I have this opportunity.” Bailey revealed her family helped her get through the pain of the discrimination she was facing in massive waves.

“It was an inspiring and beautiful thing to hear their words of encouragement, telling me, ‘You don’t understand what this is doing for us, for our community, for all the little black and brown girls who are going to see themselves in you,” Bailey said during an interview with Variety.

Despite the negative reactions to Bailey’s version of Ariel, there are plenty of fans who are totally for her portrayal. With the movie coming out in May of 2023, there might be many good reasons to criticize “The Little Mermaid” but Ariel being black is not one of them.