Disney announced on Wednesday that the search for an artist to portray the Little Mermaid is finally over. The 19-year old African-American and R&B singer, Halle Bailey is set to play as Ariel in the live-action remake of the iconic classic Disney movie.
To Bailey, it was a dream come true but not to some fans.
The official pronouncement of the casting has sparked a social media storm centered on the hashtag #NotMyAriel. The complaints rooted in the “blackwashing” of the Disney character Ariel, where most of the fans are not in favor of setting a “black” actress in a supposedly “white” role.
While fans of the said singer rejoiced over the news, some bitter fans took to Twitter about why a black actress should not play Ariel. It circulated on social media and created bias comments, as to why the actress is not fit for the role.
Before coming out to different movies, Halle Bailey first ramped up her career on Youtube. Together with her sister Chloe, she made an impact not only in the U.S but also globally after covering songs of famous artists like Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Beyonce since 2006, accumulating one million subscribers. Their voices attracted the attention of Beyonce herself and made both women signed to her music label. Now, the sisters were called “Queen Bey’s Prodigies.”
Bailey’s career skyrocketed when she entered the mainstream Hollywood and became one of the actors in ABC’s Grownish, a spinoff of the popular series, Blackish in 2018. With her soulful voice and extraordinary beauty, Halle Bailey becomes the new face of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid is a classic Walt Disney cartoon movie that first launched in 1989. It is a story of a young mermaid named Ariel who lives in the aquatic world with her friends Sebastian (crab), Flounder (fish) and Scuttle (seagull).
As young and carefree as she is, she envisions herself coming out from the ocean to live in the human world. Her whole life is about changing after meeting a mysterious and handsome man who also fell in love with her. As soon as she realized that love is impossible without having her own feet, Ariel seeks the wisdom of an old witch ‘Ursula” who grants Ariel wish in exchange for her voice.
In the original film, Ariel has been portrayed as pale-skinned, in which white actress Jodi Benson did the voice over. Like the other well-known Disney princesses including Belle portrayed by Harry Potter star Emma Watson in the remake of Beauty and the Beast, which garnered all-out support from fans, Benson had the same warm treatment. With today’s Ariel, the argument centered on the mythological-fish person who should remain faithful to the original aesthetic — a white mermaid with long red hair.
To further justify their claims, others rely on science to explain the situation. In science, mermaids are white because they live under the deepest part of the ocean where light can barely reach. Hence, this leads to lesser melanin content on their skin, giving them a lighter color. If this is the case, then Ariel should have lighter skin color instead of black.
However, looking at fans’ bias reactions on Twitter, the outrage is not directed to Halle Bailey herself as an actress or her being in an African-American descent — it is more than the issue of racism.
The atrocity comes from being accustomed to what we believe or forced us to accept. Disney played a significant role in shaping the minds of the people. It allows us to set a permanent image on our account that a Princess should only look exactly like that in the film. In Bailey’s case, she is unacceptable because her skin color does not match those with Ariel’s in the movie, regardless of her talent and how good she is as an artist.
Further, the character of Cinderella in the cartoon film should also be the same in the live-action remake, focusing on the appearance alone and not on the person’s capability of portraying the role. Just like Princess Tiana, who was initially represented by a white actress. However, the world did not agree. After facing discontented and angry fans, a black American actress replaced the role.
If the company failed to reach people’s expectation, the public would never be satisfied. In reality, physical attributes dominate strength, ability, and talent, when, in fact; ones’ race plays no significance in the story. Whether black or white, Ariel deserves an actress who can portray her well.
Meanwhile, Disney broke their silence regarding the issue by pointing out why they chose Bailey in the first place. They believed that the actress is young, fit as Princess Ariel, beautiful and with a very charming voice.
The Little Mermaid is the latest of live-action remakes of classic Disney movies, with Aladdin as the most recent. Although the public is still demanding for a better actress to play the role, Disney already plans to film the movie next year.