Black Girls’ Emotional Reactions To The Little Mermaid’s Casting Shows The Importance Of Representation

TikTok has been flooded with videos of little Black girls reacting to a Black Ariel and the internet is loving it.

little mermaid

by Aaliyah Harry |
Updated on

'Look mum, Ariel's black just like me,' a little girl shouted as she pointed frantically at the TV. This weekend Disney released the first trailer for the new live action version of Little Mermaid where we got a glimpse at our new Ariel. TikTok has subsequently been flooded with heartwarming videos of Black girls reacting to Halle Bailey playing Ariel.

As soon as Halle hits the first few notes of Ariel's signature song 'Part Of Your World,' in each reaction video the girl's eyes go wide and suddenly they are in a trance. As they sit upright, transfixed by Halle, we watch as their little faces try to process the fact that she bears some resemblance to them. One little girl even held her heart and said, 'Is she the real Ariel?' To which her mum replied, 'Yes baby it is!'

Halle looks different to the way Ariel was originally envisioned in the 1989 animated film. In the cartoon version she is a red head. In the upcoming adaptation creators have opted to keep Halle's signature dreadlocks (but with a red tint) she usually rocks in her everyday life.

When Halle was announced as Ariel in 2019 there was a lot of backlash and with the release of the trailer - the hate has continued online. Most fans were thrilled at the news that Bailey would play Ariel, but the trolls were just as vocal, decrying the prospect of a Black mermaid princess with the hashtag #NotMyAriel.

Much of the hate is tinged with racism. Despite the utter irrelevance of Ariel’s skin colour— Ariel is a fictional mermaid - the backlash to her casting is completely prejudiced. Recently, director Rob Marshall explained that when Halle auditioned for the role that she 'set the bar and no one else came above that bar'. Halle won the role based on her talent and ability to capture the essence of Ariel - shouldn't that be all that matters?

In an interview with Varietylast month, Halle admitted the criticism surrounding her casting stung, but she had the unwavering support of her 'tight-knit family' to help her stand strong. She said, 'It was an inspiring and beautiful thing to hear their words of encouragement, telling me, "You don’t understand what this is doing for us, for our community, for all the little Black and brown girls who are going to see themselves in you,"’ she said.

She also thought about what her own experience would have been like had she grown up seeing a person of colour in that role. 'What that would have done for me, how that would have changed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything,' Halle said. 'Things that seem so small to everyone else, it’s so big to us.'

Now she can see this first hand through these videos. Halle recently posted a montage of many of these sweet reaction videos with the caption: 'People have been sending these reactions to me all weekend and i’m in truly in awe. Seeing these little babies reactions makes me so emotional. This means the world to me. Thank you for all your unwavering support.'

For decades many children have grown up without an ounce of representation on screen. Disney has been the most popular childhood franchise since the 1950s and princesses are at the centre of this magical world. Most girls dreamed of being a Cinderella, Belle or Snow White but it wasn't a reality for everyone. For many children of colour - especially girls - growing up and not seeing themselves as the most beautiful or 'fairest of them all' led to a lot of internalised confusion and even hatred. It can be a hurtful process starting to doubt your features or beauty because you don't see praised through the media's eurocentric gaze. I think the world can accept one character looking a little different - there are many other princesses.

There have been progressive strides from Disney in recent years thanks to films like Moana and Encanto which touch on and Polynesian heritage and Colombian culture. The Princess and The Frog's release in 2010 led the way to introducing princesses of colour - Disney created their first Black Princess, Princess Tiana. However, many found themselves underwhelmed as she was a frog for the majority of the the film.

While the girls reactions of pure bewildnerment and awe to Halle's Ariel is heartwarming for many, it still highlights the strides that are yet to come. In 2022 it should be normal for Black children to see themselves represented in the media so, hopefully this is the start of a long line of Disney princesses - with some brand new original stories with Black leads.

The message of Little Mermaid is a strong one. When Ariel ventures to tell her friends and family about her secret identity, they chastise her and tell her she must conform and meet her father, King Triton's, expectations. This includes singing on demand, performing for the public and giving up all hopes of a different life. In her misery, Ariel flees in search of the life she wants. 'Her sense of longing, her searching for herself, was something that I could resonate with,' Halle says. 'She knew where she wanted to go, and she wasn’t going to let anybody stop her.' Shouldn't this powerful message from the movie for our young girls be enough for us? Skin colour should be irrelevant when they are consuming a strong message of self worth.

Seeing a classic Disney Princess reimagined in their image clearly means so much to these Black girls and boys - we can see that in each and every video. If anyone truly has a problem with the casting even after seeing the joy and feeling of acceptance it brings to so many children then there is clearly some further thought needed.

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