Were you on social media last week? Whether you were on Facebook or Twitter, you may have noticed the surge of discussion revolving around the new live-action version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. In particular, people were arguing over the new skin color of Ariel. But why is there even an uproar over the appearance of a beloved fictional mermaid? Find out below.
Disney’s Path of Continuity — and Change?
On one side, you’ve got people who are pretty much okay with having a black Ariel. On the other hand, there are those who feel that the new film should stick to what she looked like in the classic animated film from 1989. After all, didn’t the recent Aladdin movie stick to Genie being blue?
And if we go back to the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast in 2017, Disney decided to stay with the looks of Belle and Beast as seen in the 1991 film — and even that old film got its visual inspiration from the fairy tale written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve way back in 1740. If you look at Walter Crane’s inspiration for the book, Belle was already in yellow clothes and had brown hair.
Thus, it’s incorrect to say that Disney doesn’t stick to tradition. It may have new directions for its films today, but there is continuity in many of its successful franchises. So what’s the deal with The Little Mermaid? From a white, red-hair mermaid, we now have a black one.
Look, we’re not aiming to be racists here. Like many others, we just don’t quite understand Disney’s decision. Even the earliest black-and-white illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid point to someone with light, white skin.
Red to Black: A Humorous Yet Intriguing Conspiracy
Here’s another dilemma: Why exactly did they choose Ariel to be black this time? She could have been Asian or someone with Spanish roots — or even have pale white skin. Well, it seems that there’s actually a trend of characters with red features having black counterparts.
For example, the Human Torch in the 2015 Fantastic Four movie was played by none other than Michael B. Jordan, a black guy. But if you’ve read any of the comics, you’ll see that the Human Torch is a white guy with blonde hair who occasionally turns flaming red. That makes the 2005 movie adaptation (with Chris Evans as the Human Torch) look more in line with the comic source.
Then there’s the Titans web television series. It’s based on Teen Titans from DC Comics, and it has a character named Starfire. This character’s hair is orange, or perhaps red-orange. She’s also light-skinned, or very yellow because she’s an alien princess. But in the Netflix adaption, Starfire featured a darker skin tone, with Anna Diop taking on the role.
Simply put, the issue isn’t really about Halle Bailey. She’ll probably do fine as Ariel. The problem is that fans are left wondering why the change was made in the first place. If whitewashing is a source of controversy in Hollywood since it affects identity and even the cultural context, what happens if the opposite happens?