The princess franchise began in 1937 with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and “The Princess and the Frog” came out in 2009, which means for 72 years, young Black kids didn’t see themselves in these feisty female heroines.
All that to say, it’s about damn time for some change. And it’s coming, because singer/actress Halle Bailey has just been cast as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming live-action reimagining of “The Little Mermaid.”
And people are very ready for her to be part of that world.
Shondaland (the media company behind “Grey’s Anatomy”), The Shade Room, and actress Halle Berry all chimed in with their congrats— with Berry noting that “Halles get it done.”
Other celebrities noted that the casting will allow black girls to finally see themselves as Ariel.
“My little toons is gonna see a piece of her in her favorite Disney princess. I cannot wait!!!” model and author Chrissy Teigen wrote on Bailey’s Instagram post about the announcement.
“OMG I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU! And for all the little brown girls who will now see themselves as Ariel too!” singer and actress Jordin Sparks added.
Bailey, 19, is best known for her role on the TV series “Grown-ish,” and as part the Grammy-nominated musical group ChloeXHalle (where, by the way, she and her sister, Chloe, have done some rather epic Beyonce covers).
She and Chloe also sang “America the Beautiful” at the 2019 Super Bowl.
Filming on “The Little Mermaid” remake is set to begin in early 2020, according to Disney.
One other Disney Princess was re-imagined as an African-American woman. In 1997, singer Brandy played the title lead in a TV version of “Cinderella,” and Whitney Houston (who co-produced the film) played her fairy godmother.
The remake and its diverse cast was considered a major win for representation. The cast included a Brandy and Houston, plus an Asian prince (Filipino-American actor Paolo Montalban), an interracial King and Queen (Victor Garber and Whoopi Goldberg) and stepsisters (Natalie Desselle and Veanne Cox).
The film came out 12 years before “The Princess and the Frog,” making it the first time we’d seen a Black Disney Princess.
“Houston and her co-producers knew how important it was for each modern generation to have their own ‘Cinderella’ — and for many young black girls growing up in the ’90s, Brandy was ours,” Kendra James wrote on Shondaland’s website in 2017.
People are the worst
Of course, because humanity needs to be eradicated with fire, not everyone is pleased about Bailey being cast as the traditionally red-haired, blue-eyed Ariel. We won’t do the haters justice by posting the comments left on Bailey’s Twitter account, but suffice to say many are vile and blatantly racist.
For those who are so extremely concerned that Bailey doesn’t “look” like the original Ariel, we’d like to point out that Ariel is a fictional character — a mermaid, and mermaids aren’t real. And we hate to break it to you, but whoever is cast as Sebastian probably won’t be an actual crab.
Don’t even start with the “reverse-appropriation” arguments, because we cannot abide.
A handful of other non-white Disney princesses have graced the screens through the years: Mulan (Chinese), Jasmine (Arabian), Pocahontas (Native-American), and Moana (Polynesian) ... and audiences lived and even embraced the characters.
Books also have a lack-of-diversity problem
It’s not just kids movies that have had been historically problematic when it comes to diversity. Kids books also lack representation.
Some troubling, new U.S. publishing statistics revealed that in 2018, there were more children’s books featuring animals and other non-human characters (27 per cent) than all types of visible minorities combined (23 per cent). Meanwhile, half of all the children’s books reviewed featured white kids.
‘The Little Mermaid’ has some problematic aspects, too
Awesome new casting aside, some aspects of the original 1989 “The Little Mermaid” are still ever-so-slightly problematic. For instance, Sebastian the crab has been called one of the most racist characters in any Disney film.
As Cracked points out, the fact that a Jamaican-sounding character teaches Ariel that life is better under the sea because you don’t have to get a job plays right into “lazy” stereotypes.
“While making Sebastian a charming, party-loving stereotype is a baby step forward for Disney, it’s still a stumble backwards for civil rights,” Cracked points out.
And there’s also the matter of “Kiss the Girl,” the consent-bending ditty where Sebastian encourages Prince Eric to lay a smooch on Ariel even though she can’t say whether she wants him to or not.
No word yet on how or if these aspects will be addressed in the new remake.
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