The Little Mermaid: A New Ariel
"Halle Bailey is cast as the new Ariel in the upcoming live-action adaptation of "The Little Mermaid"."
From the years of 1989 to 1999, The Walt Disney Animation Studios produced a string of immensely successful animated films based on well-known fairy tales. That ten-year period has come to be known as The Disney Renaissance. It was a return to form of sorts for the studio, which had produced a good number of successful films from the early 1930s through the 1950s.
Beginning with The Little Mermaid in 1989, the renaissance period was off and running. With a compelling story, quirky characters, catchy songs, and a gorgeous, charming heroine, what was not to love about this picture? Most kids, myself included, were captivated.
Now I can't speak for anyone else, but I will admit, I had a huge crush on Ariel. I was mesmerized, watching her swim and move. I was sad when Triton destroyed her sacred space and angry when she gave up her voice to Ursula. Needless to say that it was a serviceable story for the 5/6-year-old me. Oh and "Kiss the Girl", that song, come on.
Here we are now with the recent news that a live-action remake of the original classic is in the works with Halle Bailey of the Freeform network show "Grown-ish". Naturally, this kind of news won't go over quietly for some. Because as you've no doubt gathered, Ms. Baily is black. And just like that, people are up in arms about that. Granted, given the climate, there seem to be more voices in support of the casting choice than those who oppose it.
Purists have created various social media hashtags like #NotMyAriel and #NotMyMermaid, according to a Washington Post article
. At the other end of the spectrum, celebrities and stars ranging from Halle Berry to Mariah Carey to even, the original Ariel herself, Ms. Jodi Benson, have expressed their support of Bailey.
Great news, right? Well, not so fast. The Good: Bailey's involvement ultimately means representation for young black girls and women everywhere; another win for inclusivity that would paint a new picture. One that reminds us that there are more spaces for young black female characters to occupy in stories than the best friend or the comic relief. Bailey would be given space to put her spin on an iconic character of a timeless tale, and that is always a win.
The questions that arise: Will Prince Eric be white? If so, what could Ariel giving up her voice for him say to those audience members sensitive to the optics of that? A black girl being voiceless and powerless in exchange for being part of that world foreign to her could bring up the notion of self-hate, which is an issue in the black community for sure.
These are just a handful of things to consider. Something else is the idea of what Ariel being black means for original stories featuring characters of color. It means one less opportunity to tell a story from its own space, not necessarily from within the Disney formula. There is also a commentary on assimilation into white culture and white narratives that could come up.
Again, none of this is meant to take away from the good in Bailey's casting. However, I do think that being a critical observer of the art and media we take in is a good thing. It means we're not just taking whatever is being handed to us, but we are also thinking about it some. Hopefully, it helps us hold those who are making these films accountable to the kinds of tales we need more of in the world.