We Need to Talk About Princesses and Racism

I can't believe I need to post about this again. The response to my post about the actress chosen to play Ariel in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid was quite frankly appalling. In fact, Disney removed the post announcing her casting from many of their official Facebook pages yesterday. People are judging Halle Bailey solely by the color of her skin when many of them have never seen her act. None of us know what she's going to look like in the film after her hair, makeup, and costumes are finalized, which is why I didn't have much to say about the casting choice yesterday. Anyone judging this movie at such an early stage is basing their decision on a racist mindset to at least some degree. As a natural redhead myself, I understand why many people were hoping that Ariel would have red hair in this version, and I look forward to seeing if she will when the time comes for them to reveal her final image. Besides, it isn't like we've never seen a non-white princess character in a Disney movie before. Disney has tons of beautiful ethnic heroines.

The main reason I find this behavior disturbing is that these are people who grew up with Disney Princess movies and the lessons that they preach of love and acceptance. To be a modern princess means to treat people with kindness and respect, regardless of who they are or where they came from. Saying a black girl can't play Ariel is not fitting of someone who grew up with the Disney Princesses, and especially those who watched the animated Little Mermaid series, in which Ariel spent most of her time helping outcasts make friends and feel accepted by those who ostracized them. The entire point of the song "In Harmony" was that we should all embrace our differences because they are what make us beautiful! If these people were truly fans of Ariel and wanted Disney to maintain the essence of the character, they would understand that being Ariel means being different, defying expectations, and not fitting in with the status quo, which I believe is why Disney made the decision that they did.

I have also heard the argument that it isn't racist to want the character to look the same as she did in the movie, and that brings up a different issue. Disney's live-action remakes have been a controversial topic for years now because most fans of the Disney classics are uncomfortable with taking a work of art and removing all the artwork (unless you count CGI) to recreate it with real actors and environments. Fans have been complaining about this for years even though they still pay to see these monstrosities. If Disney remaking your favorite movie is such a big problem, then why do you care who's in it at all? Shouldn't you just not see it? For me, the worst remake Disney has done so far was Beauty and the Beast, in which they cast Emma Watson based solely off her looks and fame and tried to dance around the fact that she didn't know how to sing. The movie tried so hard to mimic the Oscar-nominated classic that it completely failed to be a good movie of its own accord. They seemed to learn their lesson with the recent Aladdin remake, which was just different enough to stand on its own while still providing a few homages to the original.

The Little Mermaid is such a difficult movie to shoot in live-action due to the underwater talking, singing, and swimming that I don't think there's any way it could look as magical in real life as the animated version did. The Filipino series Dyesebel attempted to create a live-action underwater world that looks pretty ridiculous if you focus on the visual effects too much, but the costumes, characters, and emotional story arcs kept me interested in spite of all that. I'm so glad that Disney is trying to do something fresh and original with this remake so I won't constantly think about it as the inferior Little Mermaid movie. Instead, it will be an opportunity for girls who look different from me to have a chance to relate to Ariel as much as I do. In fact, I hope they change even more from the original film because I love "The Little Mermaid" as a fairy tale. The animated Disney movie is only one interpretation of it, and it isn't even the most accurate one. I've actually written a novella inspired by the original fairy tale called Of Land and Sea: The Untold Story of The Little Mermaid because I love it so much.

What it comes down to is the fact that any girl can be a princess in her imagination if she is kind, loving, and takes charge of her happy ending. For me, "The Little Mermaid" is the quintessential story of this. It is about a girl who didn't fit in with her society and selflessly saved someone's life, fell in love, and took a huge risk to chase after her own happiness. Even though this risk did not pay off for her in the original fairy tale, Disney decided to reward that character for her passion and spirit in their version and gave her the happy ending they thought she deserved. Now, Halle Bailey is being rewarded with this role for the same reasons, and if we truly wish to behave like the princesses we love, we would be happy for her.


jar1234 said…
I agree wholeheartly with everything you said. It is unfortunate that racism exists but your analysis of the Little Mermaid shows how unfair it is especially since the movie has not yet been produced.
jar1234 said…
I think your analysis of the casting of a black actress to play Ariel is excellent. I agree with everything you said. The purpose of the song "In Harmony" shows that everyone can live together despite their differences and I wish this could happen in the real world too.
Anonymous said…
I have no problem with ethnic people playing white roles. However, wouldn’t it be so great if they actually had another African princess based on African myths and culture instead of taking a Danish story and slapping a WOC in there for ‘diversity’. It would be so great to see another black princess and there hasn’t been an African princess from Africa.
Lisa Dawn said…
Thanks for reading! I have heard that argument as well. There was a recent episode of Marvel: Rising on the DisneyNOW app called Operation: Shuri. Even though Princess Shuri isn't from a real African country, Wakanda is a lot closer to Africa culturally speaking than Atlantica is.
Anonymous said…
Actually in the original the Little Mermaid did get her prize not for pursuing love but for refusing to kill the prince to get her tail back, sacrificing her life earned her a chance to win a soul by becoming a daughter of the air. In the original the Sirens lived 300 years but they had no soul, it is a different type of prize than romantic love.
Lisa Dawn said…
Yes, that is correct, but I'm not sure how it's related to the issue of racism.

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