Don’t sea the world in black and white

Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ is returning to theaters and striking controversy


Photo by Anna Haley

The little mermaid has been striking controversy and creating waves with the casting of a colored Ariel. A live-action adaptation of this beloved Disney movie has been a long time in the making.

Story by Oviya Justin, Staff Writer

I remember the first time I saw “The Little Mermaid.” A wide-eyed little first grader, I watched in awe as flamboyant sea-creatures floated across the screen. The plot enraptured me from the very beginning, and to this day, it remains one of my favorite Disney movies.

To be clear, I enjoy this Disney classic for those reasons, and those reasons only. Because of this, I was so surprised by the backlash the live action “The Little Mermaid” trailer has received upon its recent release due to one little change in casting: race. 

The controversy stems from something as minor as the race of the actress playing Ariel. If you haven’t guessed, the actress, Halle Bailey, is African-American, whereas in the cartoon version, Ariel is “technically” caucasian. 

Some argue that this is an issue of nostalgia. After all, people grew up with Ariel looking a certain way, so shouldn’t that be replicated in the live action? Yes and no. While I do agree that appearance can be taken into consideration when casting a character (specifically movies that recreate books or older cartoons), I also believe that acting trumps looks. Clearly Bailey’s personality was perfect for playing Ariel, otherwise she wouldn’t have been casted. 

It’s also important to understand that her race isn’t relevant to the plot of this movie, nor is it one of Ariel’s main defining characteristics. Unlike in other movies, such as “The Princess and the Frog”, where Tiana’s ethnicity plays an important role in the historical context of the film, in “The Little Mermaid” Ariel’s race is of little significance. If anything, her bright red hair is her most memorable attribute, an attribute which is rightfully shown in the live action trailer on the actress. 

Ariel is also a mermaid, a fictional creature, if you will. Essentially starting off the movie as a fish, attributing or breaking the character down to race is pointless.

Diversity is something lacking in most Disney cartoons. Majority of the older Disney princesses we grew up with are white, with the exception of a few. Speaking as a person of color, I know how much it would have meant to me to see a princess that looked like me on that screen when I was younger. Although still a magical experience, there was sort of a disconnect. 

This new Ariel serves as a way to mend that disconnection felt by many young children of color, a way to resonate with and almost relate to these Disney characters seen by so many. 

Bailey, along with this live action “Little Mermaid”, represents inclusivity, altruism, and fantasticality, hopefully setting the stage for many such Disney movies to come.