The Black Mermaid Controversy


Disney is in the process of creating a live-action film of, The Little Mermaid, that is set to come out in 2023. While this will be a memorable film for many fans, especially those of the African American community, the film has received a significant amount of backlash. The main character, Ariel, is played by Halle Bailey. Many are finding the film’s casting to be controversial. Since Halle Bailey is African American, many individuals are unhappy that she will be portraying the main character, as opposed to someone who is of European descent- or more blatantly, someone who has a “lighter” skin tone.

The Little Mermaid is about a young mermaid named Ariel, who longs to know what life is like on land. One day she goes above the surface; despite her father’s wishes as King. While on land, she falls in love with Prince Eric. Ariel makes a wish with a dangerous sea witch named Ursula who grants her the ability to become human for three days, however, everything does not go as planned and sacrifices must be made. The plot of The Little Mermaid has nothing to do with the skin color of the mermaids that are featured within it. Although some may argue that if the race of characters like Mulan, Merida from Brave, or Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, were changed, the audience would be in turmoil. That’s true, but it’s because those movies were made surrounding the culture of those characters. When it comes to The Little Mermaid, that isn’t the case. The race or culture of the characters aren’t integral to the message of the film. If anything, the major thing that should be taken away after watching The Little Mermaid is the lessons that can be learned from its story.

In the description of the person who was set to play Ariel in the original Broadway production, the race of who should be cast, was never established. The description merely stated “Ariel, King Trident’s youngest daughter.” This goes to show that there is no valid reason for people to be angered at the fact that a black woman is set to play Ariel. Nevertheless, many individuals argue that there were no black mermaids whatsoever, in the animated version, so there should not be any in the live-action version. This, however, is false. In the animated television series, the mermaid Gabriella, who sought to be a singer and looked up to Ariel, was of color and deaf. The character Gabriella contributed to the on-screen representation of numerous children. 

Many individuals are displaying their contempt for the live-action remake in various ways. On Twitter, the hashtag, “#NotMyAriel,” is trending due to  a significant number of individuals who are angered by the representation within the live action. The film has not only received a lot of disparagement on Twitter; it has also received its fair share of hate on YouTube, after Disney uploaded the official trailer. While it has 1.1 million likes, an add-on extension (that allows you to see the number of dislikes on a YouTube video) shows that over 2 million people have disliked the video. Not to mention, there have been memes and parodies surfacing on TikTok that display individuals’ racist viewpoints towards the film. One of the images is captioned, “The Little Slave,” and depicts Ariel having chains around her arms. Another image, is captioned, “[The] only problem with a black mermaid [is that] Ariel knew her father,” in response to a drawing of Ariel and her father, King Triton, who both have brown complexions.

Despite all the controversy surrounding the concept of Ariel being black, there is a significant amount of benefits that come out of the production of this live-action film. For instance, a crucial number of African American children are excited to see representation on screen. This is primarily due to the fact that there has only been an increase in diversity over the last few years. As a result, children’s reactions to seeing a black woman portrayed as Ariel in the live-action is heartwarming and wholesome. It is meaningful to them to see someone who looks similar to themselves in their favorite shows and movies. Although there has been a significant amount of hate that the film has received on social media, it will not triumph over the excitement of millions of individuals who look forward to watching it when it is released.