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Inclusion in Film: The Case for The Little Mermaid

Since Disney announced a live-action remake of the classic animated film The Little Mermaid, they have been met with an unbelievable amount of criticism for hiring a Black woman, Halle Bailey, to play the lead role. This backlash is so evidently rooted in racism, once again emphasising that despite advances made towards equality in the film industry, there is still plenty of work to do.

The ‘dislikes’ on the official YouTube trailer have now been hidden, however reports claimed that it was sitting at over 2 million –causing it to be the most disliked of any Disney trailer to date. Critics of the casting choice have made shallow remarks excusing their racism, expressing that a Black actress isn’t ‘realistic’ to the story or that a non-white ariel is inconsistent with the previous animated version. Anti-racists have hit back at these claims, emphasising the fact that the character herself is an unrealistic mythical creature, and her race has absolutely nothing to do with her storyline. Black actors are repeatedly under-represented, under-appreciated and under-paid. When they are finally given the roles they deserve, they are hit by a swarm of discriminatory, baseless criticisms. 

Halle Bailey playing the role of ‘Ariel’ isn’t just a film role. She gives young Black girls someone to look up to and really relate to. There is currently only one Black Disney princess (‘Tiana’ from The Princess and the Frog), yet she spends the majority of the film in the form of a frog – lacking the same kind of human representation seen in her white counterparts’ films. By a woman of colour playing the role of ‘Ariel’, it gives today’s young Black women the opportunity to see themselves on screen, something their older sisters and mothers were deprived of. 

In the past, Disney notoriously forced their non-white characters into side roles, refusing to give them the spotlight. However, this casting choice is hopefully an indication of Disney taking action to truly become more inclusive. Though this representation is long overdue, it is a step in the right direction. Role models are so important for young children, and when these are lacking in the media it could lead them to feeling less important or special than other children who are able to relate to the characters they see on screen. 

All children deserve to feel seen and valued – but this can’t happen until those influencing them feel the same way and act accordingly.

Image ‘Cinderella Castle‘ by HarshLight is licensed under CC BY-2.0.