We have been here before. In 2019, when Disney announced that the live-action remake of A little mermaid would be performed by singer Halle Bailey, there was an immediate, vocally negative outcry. There was also an immediate standing ovation for the very idea that this iconic movie siren would be portrayed by a dark-skinned woman with natural hair styled in ‘locs’.
Now that the trailer has dropped and has been viewed at least 20 million times, it’s clear that demand is high for this remake. Little girls everywhere – and big ones too – are crying tears of wonder and joy on Tiktok, Facebook or Twitter, posting their reactions to the Disney images. “She’s dark, like me,” were the words of a toddler. The imagery is powerful, as is Bailey’s Beyonce-approved voice. At the same time, when you scroll through the comments on many stories discussing Bailey, it’s also clear that many people ignore the folk tales – and world history – that reference and depict brown-skinned mermaids.
My original post (dated 2019) on the film included a number of beautiful fan art images featuring brown-skinned mermaids. I also provided historical context with a more global view.
As I wrote years ago: “Reading the comments under some of the arts reveals that some users don’t know that the idea of water sprites, water gods or mermaids can be found in a variety of cultures. The truth is this: mermaid stories span all continents. In pre-invasion South and West Africa, there is a deity known as Mami Wata who – to some – is depicted as half fish, half woman. The Smithsonian Museum of African Art has a beautiful online platform dedicated to understanding the history of these important water deities, who were also introduced to several countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as the humans were unwittingly enslaved and transported during the transatlantic slave trade.
Art from the Smithsonian Collection features brown-skinned mermaids, revealing how mermaids are viewed in other cultures around the world.
The Smithsonian site is still available, as are comic books and coloring books on Amazon
As an ’80s baby who went to the movies with my mom to watch Ariel sing “Part of Your World,” I was seduced long ago by Disney’s version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. Simply put, as anime rewrites went, it was well done. And the music (except for a few racially questionable language choices/verses) was memorable. The movie soundtrack was the very first CD I bought with my own money from Tower Records in my local mall. Many of those same songs will make a reappearance in the new release. That said, this new Ariel is a game-changer. Jodi Benson, the voice artist behind the original Ariel, also co-signed Bailey after the trailer was released at D23.
The remake features new music by Lin Manual Miranda and acclaimed Disney songwriter Alan Menken. We will also see Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Awkwafina as Scuttle, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric and Jacob Tremblay as Flounder.
Disney knew what it was doing by casting Bailey — it was paving a more inclusive path for its beloved story vault, and it was also generating buzz for a 2023 release that will likely break records. just like The Lion King live-action remake (which, among many colored faces, featured Beyonce as the voice of adult Nala and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar) and the live-action remake of Aladdin before that, featuring featuring new voices and considering full representation for each of the roles simply enhanced the hallmarks of a good story and made Disney millions more.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: true diversity, done for the right reasons, is good business.