The Little Mermaid makes a splash on social media

Jennifer Crider, A&L Editor

The live-action The Little Mermaid remake is releasing in theaters on May 26, 2023. The main character Ariel will be played by Halle Bailey Daveed and Prince Eric will be played by Jonah Hauer-King. 

Typically, the main characters in Disney films are white, and minority characters often portray  background characters. Even when there are minority characters in these movies, many of these characters are turned into animals or inanimate objects. For instance, in the movie The Princess and the Frog, Princess Tiana is a frog for the majority of the movie. Instances like this have been criticized for being performative and inauthentic. 

“The thing that is concerning is making sure that you get the story right,” said Nadirah Mayweather, director of the GC cultural center. “There’s one thing about being able to see yourself in a film, but is that director or film company telling the story that is an accurate depiction of what your culture and heritage is? I think sometimes there is miles to go with that as well has making sure you do the research to make sure its representation and also not appropriation just to make money.”

However, in recent years, Disney has been making inclusion a bigger priority by diversifying casts and producing films about other cultures. 

“Every child deserves to have the opportunity to see themselves represented,” Mayweather said. “There’s nothing wrong with someone having a Cinderella doll that might not look like them because the princess story is also important. But it is important to see a person who has the same features as them or has the same cultural upbringing so they can feel like their story is just as important. There is not a single story that is highlighted as the right one or the one that should be publicized the most. When representation happens, it’s important because it shows that we all matter.” 

Every character in the original Little Mermaid movie was white, but Disney has confirmed that this remake will have a diverse cast. The main character, Ariel, will be played by an African American actress. 

“The storyline is still the same,” Mayweather said. “We are playing these roles and were still telling the same story, but different types of people can see themselves in it. It doesn’t take anything away from the story to change the look of the character. The acting and storyline are important, not what they look like.” 

Although many people were excited about the diversity in this cast, some were angry that Ariel would be played by an actor that is a different race than the cartoon character of Ariel. Critics went to social media to share this anger, and the hashtag #NotMyAriel began trending on Twitter. 

Other users on Twitter started using the #MyAriel in order to voice their support of Bailey. Bailey responded to the backlash with a statement in Variety magazine. 

“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Bailey said. “And I’m just grateful. I don’t pay attention to the negativity; I just feel like this role is something bigger than me. And it’s going to be beautiful. I’m just so excited to be part of it.” 

Even though there has been more racial diversity in Disney movies, there has not been a significant effort to include other forms of representation. 

“I think it’s important for other identities to be shown,” Mayweather said. “How often do you see a main character being someone with mixed abilities? Or in a wheelchair? Or just different things that need to be highlighted so everyone can see themselves and not just certain people.” 

Collin Zabroski, senior mass communication major, is happy about the increasing amount of racial inclusion in childrens films, but he wishes that there was more queer representation in movies.

“If Disney came out with a movie with two guys or girls, I think it would be a good movie to show my kids one day,” Zabroski said. “It would normalize queer relationships more, and I think it would be a positive thing to show kids with gay parents. A lot of people think that putting gay people in little kids movies isn’t appropriate which is dumb because it’s the same as a boy and a girl kissing. It’s not a big deal and should be normalized.” 

Disney is the biggest producer of children’s films, and the media children consume is very influential to their growing minds. Therefore, it is important that Disney makes an effort to expose this vulnerable audience to a variety of cultures and lifestyles. 

“If art is an imitation of life then it needs to represent all life,” Mayweather said. “Everyone needs to be able to see themselves. No one’s story should be left out if it really is a depiction of real life.”