In the summer of last year, it was revealed that singer Halle Bailey would be cast as Ariel in the live-action “The Little Mermaid” remake. This decision has been met with some controversy due to Bailey being a Black woman portraying a character that was white in the cartoon version. Critics accused casting directors of “blackwashing,” “reverse- racism,” and have started the social media hashtag; #notmyariel. Others have even made the excuse that they simply “want things to be the same ” in terms of live-action remakes. For obvious reasons, supporters of this decision, including myself, have issues with the backlash surrounding this movie and, after learning that Yara Shahidi has been cast as Tinkerbell in the live-action “Peter Pan” movie, have another movie to be excited about.
First I want to address is that there is no such thing as reverse racism or blackwashing. The race of Ariel the mermaid and Tinkerbelle were not relevant to the plot, therefore, anyone of any race could have the role and it would not make a difference to the movie AT ALL. Other critics have also argued that “if the roles were reversed” and if we replaced a POC character with a white actor/actress, we would be upset. Of course, we would. Disney characters such as Mulan, princess Tiana, and Moana, were representing specific cultures and their race was relevant to the experiences they had. And, there are few POC who plays the lead in movies, therefore, replacing them with a white actress would be disrespectful to their culture, actors of color who could have a chance to dance in their career, and fans who finally saw themselves in movies. Considering that white actors/actresses have an advantage over POC in casting, a Black Ariel and Tinkerbell serve the purpose of diversifying Hollywood and the roles that POC can play that are outside of the typical tropes they are assigned to play.
It’s also clear to me that those who had an issue with Halle Bailey as Ariel have never heard her voice. Thinking back to the animated version of “The Little Mermaid” (1989), Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel at the time, had a vibrant, youthful singing voice with range. Halle Bailey’s voice is the perfect fit for Ariel. I truly believe she will do an amazing job and capture the excitement and wonder that Ariel the mermaid was designed to have and I can’t wait to see her on-screen. She has worked hard to get to where she is today and to say that she doesn’t deserve the role because she is Black completely discredits the work she put in.
To address the critics that claim that they want everything to be the same when it comes to movie remakes, my question is why? The purpose of a remake is to take a classic, beloved story and reimagine it to reach a broader, more modern, audience. If it were to stay the same, it would be boring. Take the 2015 live-action remake of Cinderella. My sisters and I found it boring and played. I mean, when you think about the many live-action Cinderella story remakes that came before it– “Cinderella” (1997), “A Cinderella Story” (2004), “Another Cinderella Story” (2008) “Rags” (2012), “Into the Woods” (2014), etc.– to make another one that follows the same plot as the original without standing out, is bland, to say the least. I understand that the idea behind the 2015 remake was to use some modern Disney magic in animating the scenes, but it still looked the same as the animated version and I could have watched that again if I wanted to see the same thing.
I can not tell you how excited I am to watch these movie remakes. Just think about how amazing this opportunity is for Halle Bailey. She started her career on YouTube with her sister, working with Beyoncé, and now she is being cast in movies. This is a great time for Black actors and I look forward to seeing more opportunities open up for them.