The backlash against Halle Bailey’s Little Mermaid is as stupid as it is predictable

The backlash against Halle Bailey’s Little Mermaid is as stupid as it is predictable

Halle Bailey as Ariel ne

Halle Bailey as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” (Disney)

For generations, Disney has taught us the world. For decades, however, Disney has only considered white characters worthy of being included in their stories. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the company began introducing non-white princesses, including Pocahontas, Mulan, Aladdinis Jasmine e The hunchback of Notre Dameis Esmeralda. And it wasn’t until 2009 that Disney introduced a black princess into the canon, in the form of Tiana in The Princess and the Frog.

After a childhood spent huddling awkwardly in Belle – da The beauty and the Beast – and Snow White costumes at princess parties, I was thrilled to finally see a character who specifically represented girls like me – never mind the fact that, by then, I was already a teenager, with my die-hard Disney-loving days behind me. Soon, countless black girls will have someone else to name as their hero: Halle Bailey’s Ariel in next year’s live-action remake of The little Mermaid.

Over the weekend, fans got their first taste of Bailey’s Ariel – mermaid tail, purple bikini top, and red dreadlocks to boot. On top of that, we also heard her sing part of the character’s signature song, “Part of Your World” and got a feel for the underwater kingdom Ariel so desires to escape from. For the most part, it was a joy. Bailey – one half of the Chloe x Halle singing sister duo – sounded as radiant as the melancholy siren, while her sweet voice introduced a new take on her beloved character. But unfortunately, the trailer also led to a resurgence of the racist remarks that surfaced when Bailey was first cast for the part. Linked to the idea that the live-action version of Ariel should reflect her appearance of her in the original film – pale white skin, straight red hair – the trolls have declared that Bailey was #NotMyAriel. Many have argued that her casting was an example – surprise, surprise – of a crazed “awakened” culture.

Immediately, many others rejected the claims. After all, they are arguing over who can and cannot play a fish-man hybrid creature. In a film that includes a crab singing with a Jamaican accent. And a purple octopus woman who steals rumors. So discussing whether it matters that the main character is now being played by someone Black is, in many ways, very silly. This is all meant to be imaginary fun, right? But in an effort to chase away the ridiculousness of reactions, it’s easy to downplay how meaningful it is for black girls to see versions of themselves on screen.

A viral thread of videos shot in the wake of The little MermaidThe release of the trailer showed dozens of children – and mostly black girls – reacting with glee after seeing Bailey. “I think she is brown,” says one girl in one clip. It’s hard not to feel touched by the happiness it brings.

Any child psychologist will tell you that the messages a young person receives are educational for their self-esteem. For many black children, years of watching blacks pushed aside in pop culture reinforce the notion that they are “no part of the world.” It is a wrong lesson that can take years to unlearn.

It has long been shown that children perceive race and attribute different meanings to different skin colors. In the 1940s, Kenneth and Mamie Clark used dolls to conduct studies on children’s awareness of race. For example, two different dolls were placed in front of the black children and the Clarks found that the children were more likely to attribute positive attributes to the white doll. More negative attributes were attributed to the black doll. Although initially intended to show the damage in segregated education, the experiment was recreated multiple times over the next 75 years. It’s a great example of how premature babies are affected by their surroundings.

Frankly, it is heartbreaking to see how early and how deep this sense of negative prejudice exists in black children. Consequently, it cannot be said to what extent this feeling of inferiority can extend – into adolescence and adulthood – and how much of it is related to what they are taught about people who resemble it. Having a media that actively shows that white doesn’t have to be the default setting for our imagination is a step in making black children feel as important in their favorite stories as their white peers.

When it hits theaters next year, The little Mermaid it will surely have families of all origins on the seats, ready to have fun. A film will not change a system that has long regarded white as the standard to be upheld. For black children, however, it is an opportunity to feel included in the fantasy and magic of Disney. Halle Bailey’s Ariel doesn’t detract from Jodi Benson’s voiceover in the animated version, and it’s not just a good thing for black kids. Shouldn’t every child be able to conceive heroes of all colors?

It has been many years since my last princess party and I don’t expect to be attending it anytime soon. But for the black girls who will, I’m glad Ariel doesn’t feel as out of reach as she once did.

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