Poor Unfortunate Reactions

Social Media’s Unjustified Negativity Towards Live-Action Ariel

Written by Lillian Tate, Reporter

Illustration by Rachel Becker

 In the summer of 2019, Disney revealed that actor and Grammy nominee Halle Bailey would be playing Ariel in Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” On Sept. 9, 2022, Disney finally released its first teaser trailer for the film. I was so excited for the new release; however, other viewers became beyond unhappy – with the lead actor. 

  I could easily declare myself as Ariel’s number one fan as I was growing up. I had the princess dress, the princess shoes, the wig and all. What I loved about Ariel was not her skin tone, her ethnicity or even her red hair. It was her voice, the way she treated others with kindness and her relatable childish naivety. Now, I can’t imagine that in such modern times we are still rioting over the skin tone of a talented young actor, and the fictional mermaid she portrays. 

  The hashtag “NotMyAriel” began trending shortly after the trailer’s release. Scrolling through social media was an absolute nightmare. Many users across multiple platforms send out scathing posts. Some ridiculing the lack of fiery red hair on Bailey’s portrayal. Which, let’s just take a second, have you ever seen your hair underwater? Is it ever the same color? If anything, having cherry-red hair underwater is the farthest thing from being physically accurate. I’m going to ask that the redheaded demographic have some perspective. Other people have decided to shoot petty remarks at Bailey’s physical attractiveness, saying she isnt “pretty enough” to play Ariel. Whereas the majority of negative social media posts are saying the same thing: Ariel is supposed to be white. 

  Many of those in support of the 1989 Ariel are using the same eye-catching argument. The finger-pointing at Disney and cries of blackwashing. The wide eyes and feigned innocence of trying to keep Ariel’s “danish” roots alive, and of course the predictable hypothetical: what if Tiana was white? What if Mulan or Pocahontas were a different race?

  Tiana, Mulan, and Pocahontas’s stories are reliant on their ethnicities and cultures; they are major factors of their movies. Simply put, “The Little Mermaid” was never about race. Not once was her ethnicity a major plot point, or even mentioned at all. Let’s say for the sake of the argument that Ariel is Danish. There is a Black population in Denmark, Danish people can be Black. “The Little Mermaid” can be any race, that detail is completely irrelevant. What matters about Ariel is her voice, which Bailey is more than qualified to represent, seeing as she’s been singing alongside her sister Chloe Bailey for over four years. The singing duo has more than two million monthly listeners on Spotify, and just to reiterate: has five Grammy nominations. Bailey isn’t just certified to play Ariel, she’s a cut above. 

  For the angry mob screaming “blackwashing”, have we forgotten Hollywood’s lucrative history of casting white actors for ethnic roles? Elizabeth Taylor’s role of Cleopatra, Tilda Swinton’s depiction of “The Ancient One” originally a Tibetan male, Johnny Depp and Elvis Presley’s castings as Native Americans, and Willem Defoe as Jesus Christ, just to name very few.  Where are the rallying cries for these miscastings? Or does it not matter because these are white actors? 

  Let us even dial in on the casting for the new live-action movie. Ursula, a character based on Baltimore drag queen Harris Glenn Milstead is played by non-drag queen Melissa McCarthy, and Sebastian the Caribbean crab is portrayed by non-Caribbean actor Daveed Diggs. There has yet to be backlash for these roles. Face the argument for what it is: this is anger over a white character being played by a black actress. This is not blackwashing. This is a movie for the millions of young black girls who now get to see themselves as a beautiful live-action mermaid on screen. Bailey’s depiction of Ariel provides something more beautiful than the cartoon Ariel ever could: representation.