With the recent casting of Halle Bailey, a black actress / singer as the Little Mermaid in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake I have seen a lot of conversation from both pro and anti colored mermaid groups. So, since I use Medium as a springboard to get my writing in motion, I typically do not address pop culture concerns but this is important.
As a disclaimer (is that what this is? It feels wrong to disclose pigment but here we are.) I would appear “White” at a glance but my (deceased) grandfather was noted as black so I identify as mixed. That said, let us discuss.
Let us begin by acknowledging this stance, since it has been the most discussed in my own circles. The above hashtag (as well as others, I’m sure, but this is the most prominent) expresses that the new casting of a black mermaid will not be this groups Ariel! Theirs will be white! And… that’s fine. In observing this group, clearly any hateful speech is hateful, so if any person is using this as a platform to attack Bailey, especially on a personal level, that is simply unnecessary and gross. However, there are plenty of movies where the first or original casting is how the movie always will feel. I have these in other movies where both the original and remake casts are white but the original cast is my cast. I feel this way about Blade Runner, Spider-Man, Kevin Conroy as Batman and so on. Having “Your” version of something so long as its your preferred or favorite is fine. My biggest consideration here is that there is truly no way to know if you will prefer this version since it is not released yet so choosing the classic over a remake would be ignorant, but if you’re so apt to stick with the past then so be it.
Historically Mermaid Representations Are All Colors!
This is something I see passed around that is intended to rationalize the color of the actress. In short, this is silly. If you believe people opposed are racist than this argument does not matter, since historical representation has never solved a person’s hate towards anything or any peoples. If you disagree on the #NotMyAriel than this still wouldn’t convince people that this is their Mermaid; it isn’t. In my time online and in conversation I have found zero people who just needed to become aware of the historical representation of mermaids to be sold on the idea of a black one so (while accurate) this is a useless fact for this conversation.
Disney Is Just Selling Out To Social Justice Culture!
Probably, sure, that definitely seems possible. Disney is a business so at the end of the day they have to stay in business. If they have discovered that it is a good business choice to cast Bailey as such a popular character than that is their choice, for better or worse. The solution to this crisis is simple and can be found in the bag of arguments I’ve heard from the medium / far political Right; if you don’t like it, do your own version. If someone truly believes that Disney has begun to include too much diversity in their films than that person is always welcome to begin piecing together their own film company. Of course I would not advise doing this in spite or in a pro-X way wherein X is any one group — you’ll exclude a lot of people. But if you think a character should have one aesthetic and stick with it for all time then by all means, get to making movies.
What If Black Characters Were Cast As White?! (Or some other variation)
I’ve seen this pop up in the form of movie posters where Ryan Gosling is playing Black Panther or Martin Luther King Jr. or Rapunzel being cast by a known bald actor or actress. This is another argument that is completely silly. As before, if you have a problem with the way Disney casts or does business you can not see Disney films and create your own thing instead. However, while goofy and outlandish to image such casting, this does not take too much consideration to get offended over. There are so many white characters and historical figures as opposed to the few black ones that are remembered that comparing MLK to one character out of a pile of Disney princesses is gravely imbalanced. Of note, this is by no means stating that black figures did not have roles in history, only that by system or significance they have been placed on the back burner in American history. There is a whole conversation about reviewing and mending that, but this is not that place — this is a conversation about half-fish people.
Those are the loudest voices I have noted online. As a rule of thumb, it should never be assumed that someone is racist because they disagree with a casting choice, doing so cheapens the implications of the word and title which has genuine applications. If someone’s vision of Disney’s princess-fish is a white girl with red hair then by all means that can be their vision for her. In 2019 (or 2020, as that is the movie’s slated release date) that is not Disney’s vision so we all will endure together. Ultimately I advise judging the performer not by the color of their skin, but the content they bring to the character.
Final word: Saying that anyone who disagrees with the casting is racist is ignorant; it creates the appearance that you do not know what racism is and, by extension, will cause you to be ignored if/when you do see true racism and vocalize it.