Disney’s recent announcement that they’ve chosen Halle Bailey, an African American actress
Singers Mariah Carey, Janelle Moane, and thousands of Bailey’s fans applauded the news and strongly supported Disney’s casting decision. This casting marked a breakthrough for black actors and a milestone in colorblind casting, or casting without consideration of ethnicity, age, skin color, etc.
However, the decision was also criticized quite harshly. Ariel, the heroine in the original animated Disney film, had a very distinctive look with long, flowing red hair, big blue eyes, pale skin and a glowing green mermaid tail. Critics oppose the deviation from the animated character’s image, arguing that a black woman can’t accurately represent Ariel. Some of the opponents contend that this casting was Disney’s blackwashing, a practice in the United States film industry where black actors are cast in non-black roles. These protests launched hashtags like #NotMyMermaid and #NotMyAriel on social media sites.
Interestingly, there’s rarely if ever an uproar when white actors and actresses are cast in roles typically played by people of color. For example, in A Beautiful Mind, Jennifer Connelly, who is of mixed-European descent, played Alicia Nash, who was Salvadorian. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Mickey Rooney, and American actor of Scottish descent, played the role of Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese warlord. In Elizabeth, Micheal, and Marlon, Joseph Fiennes, a white actor from London, played the role of Micheal Jackson, the African American legendary King of pop. In Disney’s film Aladdin, the protagonist is a middle eastern man, Aladin, who is voiced by a white man, Scott Weinger.
What the critics of Disney’s decision fail to realize is that the story of The Little Mermaid has a history of dramatic change. The story dates back to
The truth is, Halle Bailey was cast because of her ability, not because of an attempt by Disney to blackwash or increase diversity. In a statement to NBC News, Director Rob Marshall said “It was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role,”. Disney wants to maintain the essence of the wide-eyed, curious mermaid, and Halle Bailey was the perfect fit
Chiu, Allyson. “’Ariel…is a Mermaid’: Disney Network Defends Casting Black Actress in Live-Action Remake of Classic Film.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 July 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/07/09/ariel-little-mermaid-halle-bailey-disney-backlash/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e3b4eea4729c.
Duca, Lauren. “How Disney’s ‘Little Mermaid’ Turned A Disturbing Fairy Tale Into A Kids’ Movie.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/the-little-mermaid-fairy-tale_n_6096200.