Mad about Black Ariel? Stay Mad

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  • Melody Nicolette

Content Warning: mention and examples of racism, child abuse, The Holocaust (and denial of), #MeToo

By now, I am sure that everyone has heard about the absurd “controversy” surrounding the casting of the unbelievably talented and stunningly beautiful Halle Bailey as Ariel in the up-coming live action remake of Disney’s 1989 animated The Little Mermaid. There are a lot of very foolish hills to die on, but, by far, is probably one of the most stupid. 

This isn’t the first time racists decided to die on the hill of not wanting Black faces or bodies in their (“their”) Little Mermaid. Back in 2017, I brought this up for the ‘Who Tells Your Story’ piece about whitewashing and representation, because in 2007, people were mad over Norm Lewis being cast of King Triton in the Broadway production. I mean, never mind the fact that Norm Lewis rocked that role. Never mind the fact that he looked and sounded amazing in that role, and none could have done it better. 

These clowns are even going so far as to say that “science” says Black mermaids cannot exist, even though mermaids can be found in African cultures.

Never mind the fact that these same people complaining about Halle are (probably) the same ones who really, truly think abysmal Emma Watson was a remotely decent Belle in the Beauty and the Beast soulless CGEyesore unworthy of the original animated film. (I say this as someone who doesn’t care for the animated film, but at least can recognize a masterpiece when they see one-- but that’s a conversation for another time.)

It’s true this new Little Mermaid adaptation, and the 1989 animated feature, detours from the original story, with a much happier ending, and  gives vastly more agency than the Hans Christian Andersen original. (Although, in a  touching twist, the original seems to be an allegory of Andersen’s own sexuality.) There have been a lot of (sophomoric, lazy, unnuanced) criticisms of the Disney adaptation, claiming that “she only got legs for some guy” (even though Ariel had repeatedly expressed longing to be part of the human world even before Prince Eric arrives in the picture, and saves him multiple times). Truly, there have been many criticisms of Disney adaptations over changes to stories from their source material, claims of sanitization and ‘Disney-fying.” Anyone who has actually seen older Disney films will note that, despite the absence of child murder, torture and canibalism, the Disney adaptations are… still pretty damn scary. I am not adverse on putting positive spins on tales as old as time originally designed to frighten and terrorize children for more modern tastes, and, therefore, relevance. (For the record, I am not a Disney apologist, and, while I enjoy Disney, enjoy both a critical lens and nuanced interpretations of media. Fake Wokeness is tiresome.)

I mean, never mind the fact that Black, and other people of colour, have had to sit through how many decades/ centuries/ eons of being  routinely subjected to dehumanizing images of themselves in all forms of media since the Dawn of (Media) Time.

But, sure, pick this hill to die on.

In the Year of Our Lord 2019, there are a lot of more important things to worry about than some beautiful young woman with the voice of an angel  who can hit a sustained G#6  being cast as a fictional mermaid, and yet, here the fuck we are. 

You really wanna stay mad over a Black person portraying a magical half fish person? Stay mad. But may I, for a moment, direct your attention to the following examples of Black faces and bodies being shut out of  their own narratives, both in fiction and real life (you should actually be mad over)?

Take Note of the Following:

  • Innumerable ‘Hidden Figures,’ the Black women who literally moved history.

These are only a small handful of examples, some more insidious than others.The inclusion of more serious examples was not done so flippantly, but to show the breadth at which this erasure and removal, and denial of credit and existence, happens--and what lengths people will go to maintain it. Obviously, I couldn’t list every single instance occurred, but hopefully provided enough of a spectrum to give you an idea. #RepresentationMatters has meaning that transcends deeper than the frivolousness of a hashtag. Not only do people need, and deserve, to see themselves appropriately and meaningfully depicted in media, but the world should be able to see them in that way, too. 

If you believe that “representation” is flippant, and not intrinsically related to other, more heinous, forms of marginalization, and does not directly inform that marginalization, you are beyond misinformed; you are willfully ignorant. (You’re also probably one of the people having a tantrum over Black Ariel, soooooooooo…)

Hold up a mirror to the absolute and utter absurdity of feeling “erased” by Black Ariel. If you really, truly feel personally victimized by the existence Black Ariel, like the animated feature hasn’t been around for the last 30 years, and has no sign of waning in popularity any time soon, and when you have an entire plethora of other media to choose from to “see yourself,” you can stay mad. I’m sorry for you that almost the entire rest of media and representation caters to you, and it’s still not enough, and you can stay mad.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just be over here sending the hopeful waves out into the Universe for Disney to cast Norm Lewis as King Triton in this live action adaptation, so that he can sing “If Only” with Halle Bailey, and I can cry my face off. Now that’s a hill to die on.

Further Reading and Watching:

Halle Bailey: Who is The Little Mermaid's new Ariel actress?

Does Ariel Get Legs for a Guy? (Video Essay by Sarah/ Scrivener of Princess and the Scrivener)

Freeform Claps Back at Critics of Halle Bailey's Little Mermaid Casting in Scathing Open Letter 

Freeform Has The Perfect Message To Everyone Criticizing Halle Bailey's Casting As Ariel In "The Little Mermaid" 

Who Tells Your Story? : Unpacking the History of Whitewashing in Theatre and What to do About It

A List of Latina Sopranos that could have cast as Maria before Sierra Boggess

Lil Nas X on Billboard Country Chart Controversy: ‘It Makes Me Feel Even More Accomplished’

Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ Was Destined to Disrupt

The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys 

Lil Nas X and ‘Trap Country’ (Video Essay by Sensei Aishitemasu)

How Hollywood Whitewashed the Old West

The Complicated Relationship Between Elvis Presley & Hip-Hop 

Champion or copycat? Elvis Presley’s ambiguous relationship with black America

The Forgotten Black Woman Behind Betty Boop

‘Old Town Road’: See How Memes and Controversy Took Lil Nas X to No. 1 

Pop music's race problem: How white artists profit from mocking hip-hop 

19 songs that prove how much pop music owes to black rock 

The African Roots of All American Popular Musical Styles

Songs of Struggle and Spirit

Musical Crossroads: African American Influence on American Music 

The History Of African American Music 

‘Hidden Figures’ video essay playlist by Sensei Aishitemasu highlighting important Black women who have been ignored by history (“history”)

The Woman Who Created #MeToo Long Before Hashtags 

TIME Magazine Excluding Tarana Burke from #MeToo Cover Speaks Volumes

Where did ‘#MeToo’ Come From?  

How Tarana Burke founded “Me Too” movement in Selma, Alabama 

White Woman #101: Believe It or Not, Rose McGowan Is a Member of #MeToo, Not Its Messiah 

The #MeToo movement was actually launched over 10 years ago, by a black activist

Race and the liberation of Dachau

African-American GIs of WWII: Fighting for democracy abroad and at home 

The Surprising Role Mexico Played in World War II

Nazi Survivors Reunite With Black Liberators

Forgotten ‘Angels’ 

Sorry Taylor Swift, But Beyonce Really Did Have One of the Best Videos of All Time & We'll Tell You Why

Cheyenne Jaz Wise (Super AMAZING Black cosplayer and pin-up who specializes in bad ass race bends like Princess Leia, Agent Carter and Poison Ivy)