Under Sea, Under Fire

The teaser trailer for the live action “The Little Mermaid” has caused excitement and anger.


 The teaser trailer for the new live action The Little Mermaid was released on Friday, September 9th,  and it has evoked two emotions: excitement and anger. Weirdly enough, it’s the same aspect of the movie that has garnered this reaction, just from two different groups of people. And even weirder, the aspect of the teaser that had everyone feeling some type of way was the fact that Halle Bailey, the actor playing Ariel, is a black woman. 

To me, the fact that Ariel is black is super exciting. As a little black girl, it was very difficult for me to envision myself as a princess, the way that many little girls do, simply because the only princess that looked like me was a frog for 80% of her movie. Now, years later, seeing little black girls watch the new teaser and get excited that Ariel is black fills me with nothing but joy, and I can’t fathom that this would make people angry. 

Representation is so important because, regardless of how we try to paint it, the kind of beauty that is represented on screens is the kind that society deems as acceptable. Under representing people of color in Hollywood is just another way to perpetuate the idea that non-white people aren’t beautiful, which is definitely not the kind of idea we want to put in the minds of children. 

However, there are tons of people on social media who, rather than being excited about this casting decision, like I am, are expressing outrage over it. Facebook groups were created and are sharing racist memes targeted towards Halle Bailey, TikTok videos are trying to explain why they think Ariel shouldn’t be black, etc. Which all begs the question: Why does Ariel being black make people so angry?

 Well, on one end of the spectrum, there are people saying that it isn’t realistic for her to be black because she lives in the ocean and isn’t near the sun. I, however, would go as far to say that realism is not exactly what they’re going for in this movie seeing as mermaids are mythical creatures that don’t actually exist. 

Then, there’s the people arguing that if it’s okay to make Ariel black, then it’s okay to make Tiana (from The Princess and the Frog) white. I don’t agree with this for two reasons. 

Reason number one: Disney made Tiana black to begin with because of the lack of representation of black women in films. Tiana was the first black Disney Princess and, for the most part, is the only one that most people recognize. There are tons of Disney Princesses, and characters in general, who are white. 

Reason number two: Tiana being a black woman in the 1920s is a central part of the plot. Tiana’s struggles in the beginning of the movie are not just because she’s poor. Her being a black woman in that time is a huge part of why she struggles. In order to make Tiana white, you would have to change the conflict of the movie. The same can’t be said for Ariel, though, because her race is not relevant to the plot at all. 

Another reason people are angry about the casting of Ariel is because Halle Bailey’s hair is not a bright enough shade of red. Nobody cared about Ariel’s hair color before the trailer came out and they realized she was black, so why does it matter now? And how does the color of Ariel’s hair relate to her skin color at all? The directors of the new movie have said several times now that Halle Bailey was the best actor for the role so would people have been more pleased with the movie if they chose a bad actor with naturally bright red hair for the role instead?

There are literally no objective reasons to justify why Ariel shouldn’t be black. 

Regardless of what end of the spectrum you may fall on, the only people truly arguing about this are people who aren’t the target audience of the movie. Most kids are just excited that there is gonna be a live action “The Little Mermaid” (myself included). Black girls being able to put themselves in the shoes of a princess is not something that should be making people angry, and non-black girls don’t care what color Ariel is, so why should we?