I’ve been dreaming about an adaption of The Little Mermaid since I was a child. I’d fantasised about being under the sea, experiencing a real world version of the Disney classic that I’d held very close to my heart. The Little Mermaid was always an escape for me. It was a way in which I could leave my world and enter the one below the water.
Growing up as a gay child, I’d always felt connected to the way in which Ariel tried to break free from the societal norms that were thrust upon her by her community. She broke free to be a part of a world that was different, yet one that she felt more connected to. Her story is one that many minorities can relate to in a way that some people can’t, and this is why the casting of Halle Bailey (Of Grown-ish and Chloe x Halle fame) as Ariel is more important than people want to believe.
For too long there’s been a lack of inclusion and diversity portrayed in mainstream films and television marketed towards children. Most Disney characters were white, cisgender straight people who met, fell in love, defeated the evil and found their happily ever after. Either that, or they were anthropomorphic animals voiced by white, cisgender straight people who also met, fell in love, defeated the evil and had their happy ever after. Then along came Jasmine, a woman of Middle-Eastern descent, the first Disney Princess to crack the mould. However, not enough to break it completely.
What followed was a line of women who branched out of the typical, caucasian, perfect and simplistic princesses that Disney was well known for creating before the Disney Renaissance.
Characters such as Mulan, Pocahontas, Merida and Tiana propelled the Disney Princess line into a new area: highlighting diversity through well-rounded characters who refuse to be stagnant. Reception to these characters has been a mixture of disdain and pleasure. Many people still favour the typical Caucasian princesses that came before, and are ‘historically accurate’. It’s here that people have found issue with Halle Bailey’s casting.
Ariel is known for being strong, independent and rambunctious. These are all qualities that are evident in many young women regardless of their ethnicity. Ariel has a timeless quality and voice that deserves to be heard through a myriad of different perspectives. Why is it so hard for people to see this character from anyone who isn’t white?
In my opinion, most “criticisms” directed towards Bailey towards stem from people attempting to cover their racism by stating she doesn’t fit the characters look. Many took to Twitter to voice their frustration with her, even going as far as creating a #NotMyAriel online campaign against the film. Many accused Bailey of being unable to “fit the Danish heritage of the character.” However, the *fictional* character of Ariel was born in the underwater sea of Atlantica (also fictional). She’s not inherently of Danish decent, the kingdom of Atlantica is only located near Denmark.
In retaliation, people all over Twitter and Instagram flooded the social media sites with artistic depictions of Halle Bailey in character, proving that not only does the fit the look of the character but she also rocks it. Jodi Benson, the original voice of the animated character, even came out in support of the casting decision, she said, “when I’m singing ‘Part of Your World,’ if you were to judge me on the way that I look on the outside, it might change the way that you interpret the song, but if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel.”
“I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart and their spirit is what really counts.” – Jodi Benson on Halle Bailey’s casting.
A poll conducted by The Hollywood Reporter went to show that there has been more positive reception to the casting choice than first lead to believe, with over 50% of Gen Z, Get X, Millienials and Democrats supporting the decision.
However, this isn’t the only casting for The Little Mermaid that has come under fire. Many fans of the animated film expressed their displeasure with Melissa McCarthy being cast in the role of Ursula. Ursula was a role many believed should be performed by a drag queen due to the character like being based on that of legendary drag queen performer, Divine. While, there’s merit in the idea that a drag queen could perform an iconic role, the character of Ursula isn’t an actual drag queen herself.
— |L I Z Z O| (@lizzo) November 1, 2018
To that extent, many fans have pushed for the role to be played by drag queens with little acting experience (such as Ginger Minj from RuPaul’s Drag Race) or by musicians with little acting experience (such as Lizzo), over McCarthy, whom has over 20 years of acting experience and a slew of major awards nominations to back it up. While it would be amazing for Disney to release a mainstream film with a drag queen front and centre, McCarthy presence and acting ability for the role is inspired.
It’s suffice to say that while fans are still looking forward to this live action rendition of the beloved classic, many aren’t enthused over the myriad of casting choices being made.
But for me, this movie means the world. It got me through some of the toughest aspects of my young life. I saw a part of myself in the character of Ariel, and I think it’s about time for young people of all different backgrounds see themselves in the character too. The Little Mermaid is about so much bigger than people give it credit for. And I for one can’t wait to see the smile on every girls face once Halle Bailey’s Ariel graces the screen.