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Unpopular Opinion: If Halle Bailey “Isn’t Your Ariel,” You’re Wrong

Like Jesus, Santa Claus and ancient Egyptians, there are many historical figures and fictional characters that an insistent, needlessly-angry demographic of white people claim must be played by white actors. In the past, all hell has broken loose when a few brave souls try to claim otherwise. Now it’s 2019, and not a single thing has changed.

On July 3 it was announced the singer and actress Halle Bailey from the duo Chloe x Halle and the show grown-ish will be playing Ariel in Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. Thousands of people, both fans and fellow celebrities, took to Twitter to congratulate Bailey on what became a groundbreaking moment, as she will be the first black actress to portray a canonically white Disney princess. (Not counting Brandy Norwood in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.)

Despite Bailey being the perfect fit for Ariel on account of her “rare combination” of a “glorious singing voice“innocence,” “heart” and obvious beauty, not everyone was overjoyed with director Rob Marshall’s choice to cast her in the film. Many seemed to get caught up on the fact that Bailey isn’t white or redheaded like the Ariel seen in Disney’s original animated version.

Undoubtedly stepping away from their very productive and not-at-all pathetic lives, racists oozed out of every crack, crevice and gutter to create the Twitter hashtag #NotMyAriel and spew hatred and offensive words directed at the young star. Every indignant protest possible was uttered online, from people saying that Ariel was based on a Danish fairytale to those claiming it was unfair to take away ginger representation to others saying that Tiana and other black characters must now be cast as white actors. Even news platforms didn’t seem to know how to act, one describing Bailey using the antiquated term “colored.”

Luckily, a counter-movement of love and support for Bailey quickly swelled online to shut down the ignorant hatred. Some made fan art of Bailey as Ariel while other Twitter users intelligently pointed out that:

  1. Danish people can be black as “Danish” isn’t a race but an ethnicity composed of people with ancestral, legal, historical and cultural connections to the nation of Denmark.
  2. Black people with naturally red hair exist. (Do you even know how genetics work?)
  3. Disney’s adaptation really wasn’t similar to the original mythology at all. (Disney skips the part where The Little Mermaid debates stabbing the love of her life through the heart, among other things.)
  4. It is a MYTHICAL story, with talking fish and a hidden underwater kingdom. Mermaids are MYTHICAL creatures, and since none exist, no one can say what race they are or are not.

Of course, scientifically, it stands to reason that mermaids would be dark gray, bloated and somewhat grotesque creatures to be able to withstand life “under the sea.” A thin, pale redhead who sunburns easily would not survive. Also, there’s the fact that other cultures have had mermaids of color as part of their mythologies long before Hans Christian Andersen wrote the disturbing tale we have all become familiar with today.

Still, agitators didn’t take the backlash well, claiming they “only want the adaptation to stay true to the original film.” However, for those of you arguing why you can’t possibly be racist, and saying that it’s just about Ariel being the same as she was created in the cartoon, here’s where you’re wrong.

If you’re black and you believe Ariel should be white because she has been a traditionally white character, here is some food for thought. If you’re not black, it’s high time you realize that believing a white mermaid is more “right” or “better” than a black mermaid, is racism, no matter how many of your best friends are black.

It’s one thing to want accuracy when it comes to character portrayals in terms of an actor’s traits and acting ability. It’s quite another hypocritical thing to want racial accuracy for a white character, especially after years of white actors portraying historically black or brown people on screen. One has to ask where all the outrage was then? As well as how we make up for the years of inaccuracies, the children of color growing up watching TV and thinking that there was no place for them in fantasy worlds, romances and other fictional spaces?

Of course, it would be wrong to cast white girls as Tiana and Mulan, because there is a major shortage of characters who are canonically women of color, and the stories center around their races, cultures and upbringings. But there is no shortage of role models for ginger people, and there are plenty of characters and roles for white women to play. Plus, Ariel’s story is in no way about her whiteness, red hair or Danish heritage.

It’s also wrong to demand that people of color wait to see themselves represented onscreen until entirely new POC characters are created. Changing a character’s race, sexuality or gender identity without changing the character entirely isn’t pity, pandering or “throwing minority groups a bone.” Instead, it is giving underrepresented communities the mainstream presence they deserve. If you truly “don’t see race,” then why should Bailey’s race matter if she embodies all of Ariel’s other qualities?

White girls got to see themselves as Ariel their entire childhood growing up, and it’s not like the original movie is going anywhere after the remake comes out. If you want to reminisce or feel valid as a white girl with red hair, you will always have the option to watch it again.

Now is the time for black girls specifically to have the chance to feel represented as The Little Mermaid. This is for all the girls who have had to dress up as white princesses on Halloween, and are told they shouldn’t. It’s time for a tiny sliver of restitution and representation that black people more than deserve. If anyone’s not cool with that, you can go cry to the multitude of other white princesses in Disney’s white privilege warehouse.

 

Featured Image by Nilah Magruder via Twitter

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Written By

Marielle Devereaux is an 18 year old journalist that loves reading odd novels, writing poetry and starting revolutions.

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