Little Mermaid critics reveal their own bias


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Musical artist and actress Halle Bailey got her start as one member of the superstar R&B sister duo Chloe x Halle. The group was cosigned by Beyoncé and was featured on her 2016 “Formation” tour before Halle went on to star in Disney’s 2023 “The Little Mermaid” live action remake.

The recent controversy over the casting of R&B singer Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live action The Little Mermaid (2023) reveals how hypocritical and nonsensical right-wing reactionaries are, from the issues they choose to focus on to the support they claim in defense of those views.

The trailer for the remake came out in early September at Disney’s D23 fan exhibition, a yearly event hosted for Disney’s official fan club to give information on new projects. The trailer received a bimodal response: many celebrated Disney’s push for more diversity as black girls across the country felt represented, while others criticized Disney for changing the race of a character they had previously known as white.

Videos of young black girls crying after watching Bailey’s mesmerizing vocal performance in the trailer have gone viral, but so have racist tirades against Bailey claiming that she is ruining a beloved childhood classic by changing the initially intended race. Despite the absurdity of adult men and women being so protective over a children’s movie franchise, the rhetoric they are spreading must be taken seriously. 

The outrage stemming from right-wing groups every time a person of color, a gay or trans person or a disabled person is given a place to be represented is completely backwards and regressive. Conservative fans claim that multi-billion dollar companies are being too “woke” and somehow shunning straight white audiences by simply having people of different identities on screen, who they claim are taking spots away from white, straight, cis or able-bodied actors.

What regressivists fail to understand, or more likely choose to ignore, is that before this decade, marginalized groups would be lucky to get a non-stereotypical character that represented them in a movie or TV show. Actors in minority groups have only just begun to play fully realized characters.

For film companies, reusing intellectual property is much cheaper than generating new franchises. They often choose to remake old properties with built in audiences in order to make quick cash. However, barely a percentage of all of their legacy characters are neither white nor straight. By changing the races and/or sexualities of these characters, companies are righting the wrongs of their past, where they would traditionally only represent “politically acceptable” identities on screen by whitewashing roles that were originally meant for minorities.

I acknowledge that calling out racists on Twitter is the easiest slam dunk a writer could make, yet it sadly still needs to be said. This reactionary type of thinking is mainstream, with major news networks covering this debacle and social media sites overtaken by arguments stemming from it.

For those claiming that it is “unrealistic” for a mermaid to be black due to some pseudo-scientific explanation of UV rays, brought up by prominent right-wing political commentator Matt Walsh, I ask them to contemplate the “realism” of a human/fish hybrid that can speak underwater.

I would also ask why this is the issue that conservatives choose to focus on, when there are other, more significant issues affecting humanity, such as the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi or the effect constant hurricanes have on Puerto Rico that need immediate attention. These senseless debates about castings are distractions, have no effect on our actual lives and only generate further outrage within conservative circles so they can ignore the material realities of poverty and exploitation.

Finally, I would ask why, when original diverse characters are created instead of changing white characters, there are similar outrages. When asian actress Kelly Marie Tran took on a role in The Last Jedi, the outrage and harassment she faced from Star Wars fans was so intense that she had to leave the public spotlight.

While simply adding a black character to a movie does not absolve Disney from past wrongs, including more diverse actors is a good first step in making Hollywood a more inclusive space for those in front of and behind the screen. The happiness people get through seeing themselves represented on screen for the first time should be enough for any reasonable person to throw aside any arguments about scientific accuracy or sticking to tradition in a fantasy movie.