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Controversial Casting of Ariel Sparks Racial Debate

By Melissa Mora

It’s no secret that Disney has recently stepped up their game by turning some of their classics into live-action films, from Aladdin and The Lion King to the newly announced: Mulan and The Little Mermaid.

From the moment it was revealed that there would be a remake of The Little Mermaid, the internet began to speculate about who would be cast to play the role of Ariel. On Wednesday, July 3, Disney finally announced that Halle Bailey, actress and half of the R&B singing duo Chloe x Halle, would be taking on the iconic role of Ariel.

The nineteen-year-old took to Twitter to celebrate this victory by sharing a photo of an animated Ariel with a darker skin tone and captioning it “dream come true.” She was immediately flooded with an overflowing amount of love, praise and congratulations but was also met with disapproval from some fans of the original film.

 It was the deviation from the animated character’s image that upset these fans the most. They claimed that the person playing Ariel should’ve been a white redheaded female. There were even some harsh hashtags that went around Twitter such as #NotMyMermaid and #NotMyAriel.

 Disney itself has yet to say anything about the matter; however, Freeform, a television network owned by the Disney company, issued a fiery statement in regard to the situation and in defense of Bailey via an Instagram post titled “An open letter to the Poor, Unfortunate Souls.”

 Freeform pointed out that even though the fairytale version of Ariel is supposedly Danish, she is still a fish. “Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black,” the network proclaimed.

 Rumors have spread on different social media platforms about who will be playing other important roles in the film, such as Prince Eric, Ursula and King Triton, but nothing has been confirmed yet. Some have argued that in order to continue with the narrative, a black male should be cast to play the role of King Triton, as opposed to award-winning actor, Javier Bardem, who has been in talks for the role.

 This casting has been a controversy that has circled around social media since the moment it was revealed. The argument that original fans are making is that they grew up with a specific version of the fictional mermaid and they feel entitled to experience that same version as adults, in honor of their childhood. Freeform had something to say about that, too.

 “So after all this is said and done, and you still cannot get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly-talented, gorgeous Halle Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that it is because she ‘doesn’t look like the cartoon one,’ oh boy, do I have some news for you … about you,” Freeform added.

 The director of the upcoming film, Rob Marshall, has also opened up about the casting of Ariel. He says the decision to cast Bailey resulted after extensively searching. “It was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role,” Marshall mentioned in a statement to NBC News.

 For those who are entirely supportive of Bailey taking on this role, it’s the representation that she’s bringing to the table that is most important. Having a young, black female be casted to play the role of such a classic character who was primitively created to have the characteristics of a young white girl, hence the long red mane and big blue eyes, has made other black girls around the country feel seen and empowered.

 Someone on Twitter reached out to Bailey to applaud her for making this big change in the industry. “Can’t wait to surround my future daughter with powerful iconic women like you Halle, I’m so proud of you,” they tweeted at her. Clearly, it’s imperative that little black girls growing up in this generation are able to see others just like them achieving big things in the world, just as Bailey has done.

 Even the woman who voiced young Ariel in the 1989 animated film had words of encouragement for Bailey. “The spirit of a character is what really matters,” Jodi Benson said, in support of Bailey. “What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart and their spirit is what really counts.” This is a direct statement towards those who are fixed on Ariel’s physical looks, which are really not as important as many have made it seem. In fact, they don’t matter at all.

Melissa Mora can be reached at Melissa.mora@spartans.ut.edu

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