A few days ago Disney announced some very exciting news. Halle Bailey, one half of the grammy-nominated sister duo Chloe x Halle would be playing Ariel in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.
The child in me rejoiced!! The adult in me nearly exploded with excitement! I went to YouTube to listen to this incredible voice I’d heard so much about, (I was only vaguely familiar), and immediately knew why the film’s Director, Rob Marshall, described it as “a glorious singing voice”. I was completely blown away!!
As my elation grew, I instinctively began to brace myself for the negativity that would surely follow. With certainty I knew it was coming because, in case you somehow missed it, Halle Bailey is Black.
In no time the outrage ensued.
In the midst of this extraordinarily talented young lady’s dreams coming true, a force of hatred, ignorance and racism poured in like a flood in many spaces on the internet.
I know better than to stay in the comment section for too long, but in mere moments I saw one of several memes drawing comparisons between pictures of the lovely Halle and different Disney animals. One such side-by-side was captioned “This is perfect for you!! You will never be Ariel!!”, and pointed to the emperor turned llama from The Emperor’s New Groove.
A twitter user wrote “Us white girls, who grew up with The Little Mermaid, deserved a true-to-color Ariel.” And another individual sounded off with a petition because she “won’t let Disney ruin our childhood memories.” #NotMyAriel was trending on the 4th of July (message!), racist content is flying in the MAKE ARIEL WHITE AGAIN Facebook group (yep, you read that right), and the list goes on and on.
An insanely talented 19 year old Black girl with beautiful brown skin has been compared to animals, accused of co-conspiring with Disney to somehow ruin childhood memories (what part of that even makes sense??), and the narrative continues that being white means you deserve a constant reflection of yourself in mainstream media.
Like my white peers, I grew up watching these same movies and I have my own childhood memories. None of them included an animated princess who looked like me, and when that dream finally came true in my adulthood they made her a frog for all but 15 minutes.
It took 70 years for that to happen but I guess I should just be happy to be included, right? There are numerous underrepresented groups still waiting for some form of representation, but sure, get mad over a fictional mermaid because of what you think you deserve.
While some of these posts have since been flagged or deleted, there are plenty more making the rounds. It’s important to note that these thoughts exist beyond the internet and the stench of racism lingers.
And no, it doesn’t justify a thing if you start your sentence with “I’m not racist but…”.
Don’t tell me how much you like Halle Bailey but not for this role. Don’t try to convince me by mentioning your black best friend. Don’t throw in “tradition” and a Danish author you learned about two seconds ago. Don’t feign discrimination, and don’t try to flip it with some petty version of “how would you like it if we made so and so white?”
Newsflash, you’ve already been there and you keep doing that, so in the illustrious words of yet another white Disney princess, let it go.
Mermaids are mythical. Mermaids aren’t real. Mermaids are a figment of our imagination, and our imaginations don’t always have to land on white skin.
It matters not only for BIPoC children and adults to see ourselves in various roles on screen and in real life, but for those steeped in the centering of whiteness to take a long, hard look at someone other than themselves for a change.
So while the bitter stay bitter, determined to ignore the numerous logical explanations discounting this utterly illogical uproar, I’m going to continue to look forward to taking my girls to see a princess their mama never had when she was their age.
I think I need this as much as my daughters do, and judging by the amazing fan art and outpouring of positive support this film has already received, there will be plenty of people joining me at the movies.