There are certain things in this American pop culture that people clearly don’t want trifled with. Now, me being the fan of language that I am, and as big a fan of storytelling that I am, let me put you on game real quick.
Walt Disney, the machine that is DISNEY, did not have an original idea. Aside from Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Daisy and Goofy. The powerhouse stories are taken from The Grimm Brothers, and in the case of The Little Mermaid, it is a taken from the Hans Christian Andersen story. You can link that here. What Disney has done in adopting these stories for the entertainment of children, is take a source text to adapt it to a suitable audience.
This is the beauty and nature of literature and art. What we not about to do is champion the craziness that is found in this campaign of #NotMyAriel or #MakeArielWhiteAgain. We not about to do this over here. We really not. What the Disney has done, again, is take a source text and reimagine it. I don’t have time to go into the literary breakdown of how cool that is, but I will say this.
First, Halle Bailey will be amazing as Ariel.
Second, if you think a mermaid–an imaginary creature from an almost 200-year old Danish story–which is a play on the sirens of ancient Greek mythology, cannot be Black? You are part of the problem.
What is the problem, you ask? The problem is your issue with visibility, diversity and the challenging of what you think should or could be acceptable representation of Black women and girls. It would seem that the people of this adamant persuasion regarding The Little Mermaid, are hilarious. But perhaps, this was the most potent social media comment pertaining to this situation:
*Not seeing yourself in any media depiction that wasn’t subservient. That wasn’t magical. That was delegated to the maids, mammies, and shadow people. Imagine that the casting of someone that looks like you, in a public medium like film, and having the reaction as vitriolic as Halle is having? Imagine having the color of your skin, your hair, your very being seen as so ‘offensive’ to what people call the ‘original’ film? Can you imagine how insane that would be?
Furthermore, as a Black girl who grew up before Tiana in The Princess And The Frog, was a voting adult before the election of President Barack H. Obama, as a Black girl that was told there were limits on my own imagination–representation is everything. If there was a little White girl that can imagine herself as Ariel, why can’t a little Black girl finally see herself as Ariel?
Is it the seeing of a Black girl as more than a caricature that is offensive? Is it the desire for diversity, in the insistence of our personhood, our presence, or magic? I wasn’t so struck by the need for this level of diversity with this particular film until my oldest daughter, whom will be 12 in September, gave me a gift. She made this mermaid sculpture at a camp. The mermaid was blonde, with brown hands, and a white face. She had never seen a Black mermaid. There weren’t even any Black mermaids in The Pirates Of The Carribean! I remember there being a Black mermaid (read: tokenism!) on the cartoon in the early 1990’s. But the insidious thing that I had to catch myself on? What I had to confront was because I had not seen it, I could not believe it, ergo it could not be possible.
As a writer, I had to dive into this. Why couldn’t I believe mermaids could be Black? only because I hadn’t seen it. The Little Mermaid, the Disney version, is now about 30 years old. I was 8 when this movie came out–and didn’t even see it in the theaters. I was more into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at age 8. However, in deconstructing this feeling, I was encouraged by the fan art which is making appearances on Facebook. Here are some of my favorites:
“Up where they walk,
up where they run.
Up where they play all day
in the sun,
Wish I could be…
part of that world.”
Indeed this lyric from Part Of Your World has never been more prolific. We are part of this world.
*Author’s Note: I would be remiss in my writer duties not to remind you to watch the documentary Horror Noire which is still available on Shudder. In watching that documentary, I believe much more will make sense to you.
[top image: Disney via Google. First Ariel image is by Nilah Magruder (@nilaeffle–she first displayed this image on her personal Twitter timeline.]