“Controversial” Casting Choices?: Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid


Disney released the first new look for the live-action movie The Little Mermaid coming in 2023 with a grand announcement: Ariel is going to be black. 

Suddenly, people who haven’t thought about Disney princesses in years stormed social media with endless waves of hate. Racism has been overwhelming the issue through Twitter hashtags and millions of Youtube dislikes. Because Ariel is black, people in support and opposition alike all have a word to say. Facing racism on the internet is nothing new, but how has this controversy been making a hit in all types of people? 

The spectrum of opinions has a wide range. Amy Lee, a student at Cresskill High School, shares her disagreement with Disney’s choice by saying “I think if they wanted to make her black, they should’ve made another movie. If Disney really wanted black rep, they should’ve made a different movie that embraced the race.” 

Many believe that since the movie is called “live-action,” the actors and details must be as accurate to the original animated film as possible. Critics even come down to the unexplored fact that the story was Danish, therefore Ariel should be white. More people have said that since mermaids live underwater without a lot of sunlight, they should be pale. An immediate response would be that the whole story and mermaids are fictional, so being realistic is not something to be concerned about. After all, the plot never involves Ariel’s race or culture (unlike a movie like Mulan). As other CHS student Leo Rael adds: “The race is irrelevant to the story.” 

Amy also acknowledges her own personal relationship with Disney princess movies: “The movie in my memory… she has white skin and red hair. My childhood memory is important.” To some, making Ariel black is ruining their childhood and completely changing the character. Critics have generally discarded the bigger picture. What they fail to realize is this decision can make a huge change in media representation, so superficial qualities such as the color of her skin become irrelevant. 

However, supporters of Disney suggest that the critics are complaining about the surface-level details to cover up the fact that they are simply racist. Leo points out that “people that are mad don’t wanna admit that they’re mad about [Ariel] being black.” 

Supporters came in after the backlash with enthusiastic and positive counterpoints. Leo speaks on the issue and believes it is important that all people can see themselves in films: “There’s not enough diversity in present media and any choice to put diversity [in something that wasn’t diverse] is a great choice.” When it comes to the inclusivity of young black children, it trumps the discomfort some adults may feel. They can finally look up to a Disney princess that looks just like them, after dealing with years of white heroes.

People in disagreement must make the realization that they were never Disney’s target audience; the change wasn’t meant for them. There are plenty of other chances for white princesses to be in movies in the future, therefore the representation should be accepted with gratitude. Halle Bailey, the actress playing Ariel in the live action, says in an interview, “I want the little girl in me and the little girls just like me who are watching to know that they’re special, and that they should be a princess in every single way.” Unknown details like the story being Danish is worth sacrificing for this possible generational impact in media representation. 

Overall, a lot of the hate has been overcome with the sophistication and positivity from supporters. The purpose of the movie was never to start controversy and internet brawls. The Little Mermaid is for young girls to let their imagination grow in the magical setting Disney presents, as well as to learn important lessons. In the end, Bailey’s representation in the movie is only a plus to the feast that’s already been brought to the table.