Not Everyone Has To Be White In Movies, Deal With It
When it was announced that a black actress had been cast in the role of Ariel in Disney's live action remake of 'The Little Mermaid', people lost their minds.
We know things have gone too far when pop culture passion turns into a maniacally misguided literalist interpretation of a 1989 Disney cartoon.
There are a lot of reasons the backlash against the casting of Halle Bailey, a black actress and singer, as Ariel in the remake of the 1989 Disney cartoon is silly, many of which have been laid out by the Disney TV network Freeform.
Yes, The Little Mermaid is a Danish story. But Danish people can be black! Also, Ariel isn’t a person. She’s a mermaid. Mermaids can be black! Also, mermaids aren’t real, so they can be whatever anyone wants them to be.
Disney wants their Danish fish girl to be a black American girl who is not actually a fish. That’s their right. They want to mix things up and give lead roles to different kinds of people to show that everyone’s the same. That’s a good thing. (They also got rid of the Toy Story 2 outtake where Stinky Pete tries to casting couch a couple of Barbies – that’s probably a good idea too.)
It’s a small gesture after decades of movies featuring mostly white people. It’s not about balancing the scales – that isn’t practical or even possible. But it’s nice. And these movies are for children. So if a new generation of fans can see that not all their Disney heroes have to be white and they can go out and buy the dolls and play the video games featuring this new Ariel, that can only be positive.
And, frankly, it’s perplexing that this is still such a huge issue for fans who seem to want nothing to do with anything that deviates from what is perceived to be an original vision.
Even more disturbing is how people keep losing their minds over people of colour being cast in movies that are supposed to be about white people.
It happened when Amandla Stenberg was cast in The Hunger Games.
It happened when Kelly Marie Tran had the nerve to be Asian in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
And it happened when Michael B Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four.
Who cares if any of these characters aren’t white? Who cares if Ariel is black? She’s a pretend fish.
Hell, make all the classic Disney princesses non-white. A Japanese Sleeping Beauty! An Indian Snow White! A Haitian Cinderella! (Actually, Brandy Norwood already did play Cinderella in a 1997 musical adaptation. Whitney Houston was the Fairy Godmother. And the Prince was Filipino. But maybe it’s too late to be angry about that.) Race is an invention. None of this matters. And, again, it’s nice for the kids.
The #NotMyAriel crowd has also pointed out that it would be just as “bad” if Tiana, the one black Disney princess (The Princess and the Frog), was made white. But making non-white characters white has been happening for a century. And that ignores the extreme imbalance already present in representation.
You wouldn’t make Tiana white because there are already more white Disney princesses than we know what to do with. And if you make one Disney princess black, it doesn’t take anything away from the white ones. It only adds something. It doesn’t have to ruin anyone’s childhood. We can have a white Ariel and a new generation can have a black Ariel.
There may be an argument in the idea of creating new stories with people of colour, rather than trying to change the old ones. And I’m all for that –- but in an industry that is extremely risk averse and pathologically dependent on brand recognition like Hollywood, it’s just not likely that a new character will be as widely embraced. Black Panther was exciting, but it was still based on an old character that fit nicely in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the meantime, better to accept that not everyone has to be white in movies anymore. That our beloved characters can start to look different and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
Jason Momoa can be Aquaman.
Zendaya Coleman can be Mary Jane Watson and Samuel L Jackson can be Nick Fury.
Idris Elba can play Heimdall in the Thor movies.
Quvenzhané Wallis can be Annie.
Eartha Kitt can play Catwoman -- back in the 60s, for God’s sake.
None of this has to be a big deal. What is a big deal is that there’s now a whole legion of fans, previously shut out by the Disney princess experience, who feel a little more like they matter.
Featured Image: @chloexhalle