Opinion | ‘#NotMyAriel’ uproar is appalling

Alan+Bergman%2C+Chairman+Disney+Studios+Content%2C+speaks+onstage+during+D23+Expo+2022+at+Anaheim+Convention+Center+on+Sept.+10.+Columnist+Matthew+Lozano+argues+that+the+backlash+towards+the+upcoming+%E2%80%9CThe+Little+Mermaid%E2%80%9D+is+unnecessary+and+disheartening.+

Photo courtesy of Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney/TNS

Alan Bergman, Chairman Disney Studios Content, speaks onstage during D23 Expo 2022 at Anaheim Convention Center on Sept. 10. Columnist Matthew Lozano argues that the backlash towards the upcoming “The Little Mermaid” is unnecessary and disheartening.

By Matthew Lozano, Columnist

Disney’s D23 Expo 2022 a few weeks ago highlighted a wide array of exciting upcoming content, but lifelong fans of their favorite childhood films expressed shocking discontent for the remakes.

In particular, “The Little Mermaid” trailer sparked quite an uproar, as critics voiced a variety of concerns ranging from Ariel’s hair not being red enough, to the water not being blue enough. 

But what was most disheartening were the comments made about her skin not being white enough.

Grammy-Award Nominee Halle Bailey is cast to play Ariel in the upcoming remake of “The Little Mermaid.” Although her vocals and character delivery were incredible in the roughly 20 seconds she was seen in the trailer, it wasn’t enough to stop the comments regarding her race.

So let’s go ahead and unpack some of the arguments made against the idea of a Black Ariel. 

“Ariel’s Danish, how can she be Black?”

The most basic response to this would introduce the fundamental idea that Danes can be people of color. But to further clarify, the original author of “The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen, was of Danish descent and his version didn’t include Ariel as a character. Disney’s adaptation did.

So while it can be debated whether the mermaid in Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” was described as white or Danish, it shouldn’t matter. Disney designed Ariel based on their own perception of what they thought she would look like, which they are now doing again for Bailey’s version.

“Aquatic beings don’t receive enough sunlight to have a darker skin color.”

Ariel is quite literally a fictional being. And even though sea creatures are still known to have darker pigments either from their need for melanin or due to their ability to camouflage, the fact that Ariel is a mermaid negates the need for any argument of scientific basis. 

“So can we just make Tiana white for whenever that remake happens?”

It simply isn’t the same thing. Tiana, the main character in “The Princess and the Frog” was loosely based on a real person, a chef from New Orleans named Leah Chase. Moreover, traditionally Black characters draw on exclusively Black experiences and hardships. 

Thus, for characters who were originally people of color, keeping that part of their identity is integral to their story.

But the issue of originally white characters being taken up by Black actresses isn’t a singular instance that just so happened to spark controversy. It remains ubiquitous across numerous other films.

Additional comments have been made toward singer and actress Cynthia Erivo, who was cast as The Blue Fairy in the new “Pinocchio film,” and Yara Shahidi, who is set to play Tinkerbell in “Peter Pan and Wendy.” As seen again, both actresses are playing fictional beings who have no realistic origin and therefore can’t have an “authentic” skin color. 

Of course, the case can be made that people simply want the character to look like the original for the sake of nostalgia or authenticity. But that still begs the question: Can we sacrifice skin color for the original subject matter?

The answer should unequivocally be yes.

Every single physical aspect of the character doesn’t need to remain unaltered for one to get that sense of authenticity. You can still add original physical attributes and have the main character be a person of color. 

The point is Bailey won the role over every other eligible candidate, making her perfectly qualified to play Ariel regardless of her skin tone. If you think the character simply looking the same as the animation trumps both of those qualities, you need to do some serious reconsideration of how you critique films.

One of the most vital reasons why nonwhite actresses should be welcomed with open arms for playing originally white characters is the impact representation has on nonwhite children.

The reaction of Black girls seeing Bailey on their screen is one of the few breaths of fresh air that prevails through the wall of distasteful criticism. And isn’t it the children’s opinion that matters most, especially considering that this movie is primarily meant for children?

Yes, creating a remake almost 35 years later means there will be a large audience of fans that have an emotional connection to the original film, but the original was also meant for when that audience was primarily children.

So, to this branch of critics, your childhood is over, and while you can of course watch the remake of one of your favorite childhood movies, do so in remembrance of the fact that the target demographic is primarily children. 

Ursula was purple, the crab was Jamaican, and to reiterate for the umpteenth time, “The Little Mermaid” is a fairytale. It’s OK and definitely encouraged to reflect on the reasoning as to why you don’t like Bailey playing this role. Whether it’s racism, resentment or somewhere in between, with luck, some self-realizations will be made.

 

Matthew is a sophomore in LAS.

[email protected]