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Jordan Reid

Author; Founding Editor, Ramshackle Glam

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Is it surprising that the Black star of ‘The Little Mermaid’ faces racism?

Jun 08, 2023

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It happened when Latina actor Rachel Zegler was cast as Snow White in the upcoming 2024 movie. It happened when Black actor Yara Shahidi was cast as Tinker Bell. And now it’s happening with Halle Bailey, a Black actress starring in “The Little Mermaid.” While these are all Disney movies, it’s not uncommon to find racist feedback on social media for any movie that casts non-white actors in roles previously played by white actors.

Straight Arrow News contributor Jordan Reid tries to understand why this is happening.

Some detractors claim the projects that place a person of color in a central role are what amounts to “forced diversity,” a desire not to create the best art possible but to push a so-called “woke” agenda. Except centering a person of color in a movie is not in and of itself pushing any agenda at all. Populating the world on our screens with faces that accurately represent our diversity — rather than sticking to the stories exactly the way they were written in the first place, when they were written by a singular very specific category of person — it doesn’t just sound like the right thing to do, it sounds like a whole lot more fun.

So the next time you hear someone say, “well, but in the original ‘Little Mermaid’…” you can remind them that the original “[The] Little Mermaid” was an allegory of a closeted gay man’s desire to love openly. In the end, the mermaid dies. That’ll get ‘em.

I went to see the “Little Mermaid” on the day it opened. Obviously, it was fantastic and I say this as someone who can pretty much recite the entire original movie from memory.

 

I was nervous that I was too devoted to the original source material to enjoy reinterpretation. But this movie was just (kiss smack), just perfection. It was like an homage to the original. And it gave me all the moments I wanted to see. And it’s also just like a great standalone movie. So A+++, standing ovation. 

 

But because we cannot have nice things, people had to get all racist on the Little Mermaid — I know you’re shocked — because you see the star of the movie, Halle Bailey, is Black. Trolls organized to downvote the movie on IMDb so much that the site had to put up a disclaimer that the reviews may not be accurate. 

 

Twitter users called out for fair-skinned redhead representation. People complained that [King} Triton’s daughters were too diverse from each other to make sense — and wait, this one’s fun — It’s unrealistic for a mermaid to have melanated skin.

 

Unrealistic. Foreign mermaid. None of this, of course, is surprising. I mean, literally anything but the most faithful translation of a beloved story will draw out the “angries.” And when those changes take the storyline even just a smidgen outside the white male worldview, because if you recall, it was mostly white men who made the originals, people get real mad and start yelling about how it’s not like the original. 

 

And also notably, let’s remember that whenever a beloved character is made more friendly to the white male gaze than as originally portrayed or described, for whatever reason, I don’t think we see the same outcry. The backlash only goes in one direction.

 

Some detractors claim the projects that place a person of color in a central role are what amounts to “forced diversity” — a desire not to create the best art possible but to push a so-called woke agenda. Except centering a person of color in a movie is not in and of itself pushing any agenda at all. Populating the world on our screens with faces that accurately represent our diversity — rather than sticking to the stories exactly the way they were written in the first place, when they were written by a singular very specific category of person — it doesn’t just sound like the right thing to do, it sounds like a whole lot more fun.

 

So the next time you hear someone say, “well, but in the original Little Mermaid …” you can remind them that the original Little Mermaid was an allegory of a closeted gay man’s desire to love openly. At the end, the mermaid dies. That’ll get ‘em.

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