Part of Their World

Disney’s new rendition of The Little Mermaid sparks racial debates and controversy.


   At 10, I wrote to Disney Studios about the need for more diversity and representation in their princesses. The only black princess at the time (Tiana), was a frog for the majority of the movie and didn’t look anything like me. It took Disney six months to respond, saying they couldn’t accept ideas from outside the company. 

   Now, I’m 16 and surrounded by controversy flooding social media over the live-action The Little Mermaid movie. The production’s official trailer released at the D23 Expo on Sept. 9, sending a tsunami of shock around the globe with a revelation of the red-headed mermaid, Ariel, now played by Halle Bailey, a black woman. The amount of racism which ensued since this announcement has made me realize the U.S. hasn’t come as far as I’d hoped. 

  As a biracial (half black, half white) American, I don’t fit into either camp when it comes to The Little Mermaid debate. Halle looks like me, but she’s black. I could chime in with some of my own rhetoric about how Disney shouldn’t cast a fully black person to play one who is biracial.  You see where I’m going with this, right? It’s a slow whirlpool which will suck everyone under.

   Disney’s 1997 Cinderella featured not only a black woman playing the title character, but also a Fillipino Prince Charming. According to Diply Trending, this movie “broke barriers and was iconic.” So, why are people upset about the race of a fish?

According to Diply Trending, this movie “broke barriers and was iconic.”

   The biggest argument I’ve seen from anti-Halle supporters is the movie is historically inaccurate, since it has an interarcial love trope. My response: is a mermaid/human love story accurate? Is this something which exists outside of Disney lore? Although the plot takes place before 1967–when interracial marriage was legalized in the U.S.–there isn’t much in this movie that’d exist in the real world. What people like about fairytales is they allow for an escape, a chance to dream: representation matters. Seeing someone in a fairytale who looks like you matters. It speaks to the very essence of being accepted: by society, prince charming 

and yourself.   

 In the age of social media, we’ve become too attached to nonsensical slander and ideas. When I scroll through TikTok, I see more videos about The Little Mermaid than awareness for the sexist murders happening in Iran or the military drafting in Russia. I hope when the movie releases May 23, theaters will be filled with people ready to experience a new take on The Little Mermaid… not people who prefer to spend time calling it “The Lil Mermaid” or “The Little Slave.”