Monday, December 5, 2022

‘We can be anybody’: Little Mermaid revival sparks conversation on representation

October 3, 2022
<p>Design by Madison Echlin. </p>

Design by Madison Echlin. 

Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

At Disney's D23 expo, one of the most anticipated trailers of the reboot factory is the live action remake of "The Little Mermaid." Disney revealed the official casting of the iconic redheaded princess: Halle Bailey.

With a Black woman representing the princess in 2022, many students are excited to get the representation they didn't have growing up.

“It makes my inner child really happy," community service chair of the Black Media Entertainment club and human development and family studies senior Tohnai King said. "Not only because we have a black woman playing Ariel; I feel like it makes the movie better for me.”

The teaser trailer doesn't give much else away other than Bailey's singing voice and her visual role as the princess. President of the Black Media Entertainment club August James said that she believes Bailey embodies the character well.

“It's important to me because as a child growing up, I never really had that representation of a Disney princess or really any famous Disney character looking like myself," James said. "Little girls really see their skin color and somebody who looks like them represented on a wide scale.”

The casting for Ariel's role in the movie is enough for people like King to be excited about the new version.

“I think it's just important because it shows me that we have a place anywhere, even in old fashioned movies," King said. "It's not meant to replace the old one, I think it’s just meant to show it in a new light.”


International relations junior Salina Voegtly said that these movies also move the conversation on the importance of representation in a direction that is casual -- but it also proves the impact that entertainment representation can be meaningful.

“Any representation that we can get is really important," Voegtly said. "It's a step in the right direction and the conversation around it is a really important conversation that … the response people are having, whether positive or negative is a sign of where we need to grow as as consumers and as humans in general and how we look at other people.”

Voeglty also said that Disney has shown some representation in their former animated films such as "Princess and the Frog." It needs to be done with multiple degrees of respect and awareness, she said.

“The Black community has had Tiana for a while, but that's all they had," Voegtly said. "Tiana was part of the lower-class community. And to represent an entirely fantastical fantasy story with a Black woman is saying you don't have to be stereotyped.”

However, some of the conversations on social media have not been as kind. Some people reacted by posting videos with "#NotMyAriel" attached, due to the change in race in the depiction of the princess.

“It's about a mermaid," James said. "Mermaids aren't even real; it's a fictional thing. To bring a negative aspect to it, just because it's not what you want … was very, very upsetting to me. I actually had to delete Twitter because of all that.”

James saw these tweets as an attack on Black women in general, personalizing it to herself, her niece or her mom.

“Why can't we have what you guys have? I felt like it was kind of equal now," King said. "It just makes us see that we can do anything and we can be anybody.”

Voegtly said even if it comes down to simple acts such as reimagining a Disney princess, the conversation is worth being had, because it moves people forward.

“If you don't have diversity, you go in the same circle over and over again and there's no change," Voegtly said. "There's no growth, there's no development.”

James said that all of the negative chatter on this doesn't matter when it comes to how future children see this princess -- when they see it as something they can claim.

“We're finally getting the representation we deserve," James said. "I can finally see my niece watching that movie and being like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to be Ariel.’ It’s that feeling of excitement and inclusion.”

King and many others are excited to see how much society and entertainment has grown from the past to now, when the movie comes out.

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