In the heat of July, I was lying on my couch and scrolling through Instagram when I stopped on an image of a dark-skinned mermaid posted by the sister-duo Chloe X Halle. Halle’s caption read, “dream come true… [mermaid and wave emoticons].”
I gasped. Disney, do not play with my emotions!
A few moments of fanatic typing led me to an article confirming that Halle Bailey would be playing the role of Ariel in the live-action Little Mermaid.
Halle is in an R&B duo with her sister, known as Chloe X Halle, who are both Grammy-nominated artists, having entered the music scene in 2018.
My excitement was brought to a halt when I discovered that trolls on Twitter had started a #NotMyAriel thread, offering different perspectives to why this was a ‘wrong casting decision.’
Allow me to sum it up for you. Bailey is black. She has locks instead of the Little Mermaid’s iconic red hair. Her eyes are not that piercing aqua; they are brown. Clearly, she cannot portray Ariel.
The #NotMyAriel movement is bogus. Ariel is a fictional character who lives in international waters. One of her sidekicks is a Jamaican crab.
Yes, The Little Mermaid was originally a Danish story, so when this fictional character that was first brought to screen in 1989, her default race was white.
“Anyone who supports the #blackwashing of Ariel would you also support a White Pocahontas, European Mulan, and a White Tiana. If the answers no then why do you support a Black Ariel?” @MuhhPrivilege tweeted.
Ariel’s story was not tied to her race or a historical era. Pocahontas, Mulan and Tiana are all stories that have historical relevance. Racial or ethnic tensions were at the core of these princesses’ stories, unlike Ariel who simply disobeyed her father to marry Prince Eric.
But what about Ariel’s iconic red hair? I’m torn on the matter of casting a natural-redhead as Ariel because I understand the beauty of seeing your hair type represented on screen.
“As a white-skinned redhead … Ariel changed my ginger world. The mean “jokes” ended. I became envied for my hair. And you know what? I want little black girls to experience the same feeling with new Ariel,” tweeted @MsMorganJarrett.
Growing up as a black girl, I had to find ways to relate to Disney princesses who looked nothing like me. I had to train myself to appreciate their qualities over their race.
As a result, I connected with Belle’s devotion to books, Cinderella’s gracious spirit and Mulan’s boldness. By the time Tiana in “Princess and the Frog” came around in 2009, I was too old for Disney princesses.
The roles given to people of color often perpetuate racial stereotypes. But the tide is changing as Disney’s casting choice shows us we can all be included in the narrative regardless of our race.