Just a few days ago, the singer and actress Halle Bailey uploaded a video to her Instagram profile that melted the hearts of half the world. In it, we could see several black girls reacting to the trailer for the live-action remake of the 1989 Disney classic. Little Mermaid, which will be released on May 26, 2023, and in which Bailey plays Ariel. The girls were surprised and excited that their favorite Little Mermaid, who in the original film was white with red hair and green eyes, was played by Bailey, an African-American actress.
The video, which is also masterfully set by the angelic chords of the upcoming production’s soundtrack, is for now a happy ending to the dark controversy that began in July 2019 when Disney, through the film’s director, Ron Marshall, announced that Bailey, just 19 at that time, will play Ariel. “After a long search,” the director said in a press release, “it became abundantly clear that Halle Bailey possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence and substance, as well as an amazing singing voice, all qualities, inherent skills necessary to play this iconic role.”
Bailey celebrated his election with a Tweet with an image of the character with black hair, brown skin and brown eyes, accompanied by a short comment: “A dream come true…” Hundreds of users didn’t think the same, but we’ll talk about that later.
a dream come true… 🧜🏽♀️🌊 pic.twitter.com/sndjYUS6wO
– chloe x halle (@chloexhalle) July 3, 2019
This role is without a doubt the most important to date for an artist who started to stand out when she was only eleven years old in some videos she uploaded singing covers of artists from R&B Together with her sister Chloe, with whom she formed the duo Chloe x Halle. These videos had a huge impact on the internet and two very important consequences for the two sisters. The first Disney Channel picked them up to appear in several of their singing and acting series. The second was even more important and came in 2013 after Beyoncé released a version of the song It hurts a lot.
Even today, the perfection of her performance is impressive considering that Halle and Khloe were only 13 and 15 years old, respectively, at the time. The video lost so much talent and was such a success on YouTube (accumulating more than 21 million views) that it reached Beyoncé herself, who was also stunned by those two girls from Mableton, Georgia. So much so that he contacted them and ended up signing them to his company, signing a million dollar contract. The duo also supported the Houston-based artist on the European leg of her tour. The formation’s world tour from 2016
It does not seem very bold to claim that his participation in Little Mermaid will make Halle Bailey a big star, even more so considering that the film is Walt Disney Pictures’ big project for 2023, courtesy of the new Pixar, Elementary. It has already become clear that in the new film the actress’ company will be Jonah Hauer-King in the role of Prince Eric, Melissa McCarthy in the role of the fearsome Ursula and Javier Bardem in the role of Ariel’s father, King Triton.
But, as we said before, before we even saw a single second of the film, probably minutes after Bailey was cast in the lead role, the web was flooded with negative comments about casting a black actress for the role of The Little Mermaid.
The artist’s own tweet celebrating her selection is still filled with replies with hashtags #NotMyAriel or #NotMyLittleMermaid, which were invented to focus the hate on the actress and pressure Disney to reconsider their position and cast a white actress.
The main argument of the critics beyond the infantile outburst that distills hashtags, is that Hans Christian Andersen is Danish and therefore the little mermaid must be white. On the other hand, in the story, the skin color of her character is completely irrelevant.
Both the actors who starred in the first film and many other performers and Hollywood personalities faced criticism by giving their unconditional support to Bailey. Perhaps the most inspired endorsement, however, came from Disney’s cable television network, Freeform, in an Instagram post titled An open letter to these poor unfortunate souls. The backlash is astounding because it’s rare for major companies to respond to their critical fans with such fervor.
“Yes. The original author of The Little Mermaid was Danish,” the text begins. “And Ariel…she’s a mermaid. He lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can safely swim wherever he wants (although this often annoys King Triton). But for the sake of argument, let’s say Ariel is also Danish. Danish mermaids can be black because Danes can be black. Ariel can sneak up to the surface anytime with her friends Scuttle and Sebastian (ahem) the Jamaican crab (sorry Flounder!) and get a nice tan. Black Danes and mermaids can also genetically (!!!) be redheads. But *spoiler alert*, Ariel’s character is fictional. So if, after all is said and done, you’re still against the idea that the amazing, sensational, talented, beautiful Halle Bailey was cast because she “doesn’t look like the original drawing,” look, I’ve got some news. for you… For you”.
It’s clear that it was no easy task to find the real-life actress to play The Little Mermaid, because this is a character that millions of people around the world hold in their hearts. It’s part of their childhood because they’ve watched the VHS or DVD over and over again for years (an example of this fascination is that a VHS from 1989 is currently selling on eBay for €200). But even with that in mind, it’s already exhausting that every time a suggestion is made along the lines of breaking down gender or race barriers from a great blockbuster or franchise, there is an inexhaustible group of reactionary fans, be it from Disney, Star Wars or Marvel, which is always opposed, especially if it involves female characters. It’s reminiscent of a dull and airless version of Statler and Waldorf, those two old men who from the old fashioned and nineteenth century box criticized the episodes of the Muppets, albeit without their witty sense of humor.
Without going back many months, we find several examples of this type of racist, sexist or homophobic criticism. There has been a lot of criticism of the series recently the rings of power (background of Lord of the Rings) to represent black elves or hobbits, when Tolkien never spoke of the skin color of these creatures.
Also to the series based on sand Man for casting Kirby Howell-Baptiste, a black actress, to play Death, a character who is white in the original comic, or non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park as Desire. In this case, the author of the work Neil Gaiman himself came out in defense of the adaptation, literally saying that the critics “don’t care”.
Decisive responses from Gaiman or Freeform perhaps provide insight into how this type of reactionary and illogical criticism should be mounted in the future. It might just be that we stop paying attention to these bad Statler and Waldorf imitators and start looking at and making visible the good part of these changes. The girls’ joy when they see the trailer for The Little Mermaid is probably all we should care about.
Tolkien described the Arfuts as “browner skinned” than the other hobbits. So I think anyone grumbling is either racist or hasn’t read their Tolkien. Your mileage may vary.
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) September 2, 2022