Casting decisions for Disney’s upcoming “The Little Mermaid” remake have been trickling in over the last few days, and fans have been waiting on tenterhooks to discover who will be the live-action Ariel. When Disney finally announced last Wednesday that the honor will go to the relatively unknown Halle Bailey, fans on both sides of the political aisle had pretty much the same reaction: she’s black!
Progressive news outlets immediately began to rhapsodize about the wonderfulness of a “black Ariel.” Vox called it “a giant deal” and “an exciting step forward.” HuffPost said the fact that Ariel will be black is “awesome,” and BET called the casting announcement “incredible news.”
There was also a rush to condemn as racist anyone who expressed disappointment or any criticism over Disney’s choice. One website lumped all those who disapproved together under the moniker “white Twitter,” while a variety of other sites labeled all dissenting voices “racist.”
It’s true that some of the reactions to Disney casting Bailey are outright racist. But many other fans are calling foul, assuming that Disney cast Bailey not for her talent—she’s a relatively unknown actress—but for the color of her skin. One Reddit user, for example, called the casting choice “proof of Hollywood pandering.” Another called it a “publicity stunt” and pointed out that using race for publicity is “kinda offensive.”
Focus on Ariel’s Talent, Not Her Looks
Both sides have it wrong. See, Disney didn’t cast “a black actress” as Ariel. They cast an actress. Sure, when we first saw the picture of the person who’d be playing our favorite redhead, we might have done a double-take. She doesn’t look like the cartoon character voiced by Jodi Benson in 1989.
But, after the initial raised eyebrow, shouldn’t our first question have been: Can she act? And our next one should have been: Can she sing? I mean, you really couldn’t induce me to care less about the color of her skin, but I care very deeply about whether she’ll do my second favorite Disney princess proud.
When Disney initially made the announcement that Bailey would be the new Ariel, they didn’t say, “Ariel will be black!” They said, “It was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance—plus a glorious singing voice—all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role.”
Only time will tell if this is true, but if it is, I’ll buy my ticket now! Sure, Disney may have had some leftist-appeasing motive in casting a black actress instead of a white one, but they didn’t flaunt it in their announcement. It was everyone else—leftist and conservative alike—who proclaimed her blackness to be her defining feature.
The story of “The Little Mermaid” is not about skin color. In fact, Ariel is a mermaid—her skin could be blue, or silver, or purple with rainbow sparkles. And her worth—like the worth of every other Disney princess—is judged on what’s on the inside, not on the outside.
Her bravery, determination, and independence know no color. There’s no reason she can’t be black. And there’s no reason that what she looks like on the outside should matter to us at all.
Inner Beauty on the Backburner
Feminists (and Disney itself) have been on a mission for the last couple decades to shift our understanding of what it means to be a princess. In the early days of Disney—and even during Disney’s renaissance, of which “The Little Mermaid” was a part—Disney princess narratives emphasized inner beauty. The princesses had goals—adventure, freedom, fulfillment—and it was through their inner courage and strength that they achieved them.
But lately, the princesses have emphasized physicality, like martial prowess, athleticism, and physical strength, and not had much to say about inner conviction or heart. Is it any wonder that, upon learning that Bailey will be the next Ariel, that the immediate focus is on what she looks like, not whether she can act or sing?
The fact that leftists have shifted the narrative such that immutable qualities like race and sex take precedence over earned qualities, like courage and hard work, shouldn’t mean that we fall into the same trap. Who cares what Ariel looks like, as long as she still strives for the life she knows she deserves? Who cares what color her skin is, as long as she still sings “Part of that World” with a voice full of yearning and sorrow? Who cares what sort of hair she has, as long as she still stands up for what she believes in and lives her life on her own terms?
Here’s a thought: let’s judge Bailey not on “the color of [her] skin but by the content of [her] character.” Or at least, her acting and singing skills. Progressives won’t do that, but we can and should. “The Little Mermaid” is the story of a girl whose voice—her inner self—meant everything. Let’s judge Bailey accordingly.