Disney controversy

SHS student’s react to Disney’s decision to cast Halle Bailey as Ariel in ‘The Little Mermaid’


(left) Fair use image from “The Little Mermaid” movie trailer 2022. (right) Fair use image from “The Little Mermaid” movie 1989

Throughout Disney’s almost 100-year history, there has been one appearance of an African American Disney princess known to many as Princess Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog.” But, as of May 2023, that will change with the live-action film “The Little Mermaid,” starring African American singer and actress, Halle Bailey.

Although this could be seen as a big stepping stone for the representation of the African-American community, Disney has been receiving lots of criticism and backlash for the film, leaving Disney submerged in controversy over the film and the casting.

Even though this film has faced lots of backlash, some SHS students still find appreciation for the film and what it’s doing in regards to the representation of people of color.

“I love to see a diverse community be represented finally,” junior Noah Diallo said. “It means so much to people of color, especially (those) who’ve been underrepresented in the media for literal years.”

This all began on Sept. 9 when Disney dropped a preview of the film featuring Bailey singing an excerpt of “Part of Your World,” which is Ariel’s very popular ballad. But, as soon as this preview dropped, it was met with strongly mixed opinions.

As for some fans, Bailey playing Ariel brought up emotions of sadness and anger. According to CNN, waves after waves of fans could be found spreading dislike for Ariel being played by an African-American woman.

Much of this hate was found through hashtags like “#notmyariel” and an assault of hate comments on the preview that pointed out Ariel was Black. Fans went as far as disliking the video to the point that Youtube hid the dislike counter after hitting 1.5 million dislikes.

“I think they’re just plain on racist,” senior Grayson Meece said. “It’s a mermaid. We don’t know what they look like.”

Other SHS students also believe that the hate this film is receiving is based on the fact that white princesses are all people know. Sophomore Anna Grehn says that when fans are used to a certain stereotype, they struggle to accept that things can change.

“We’re so used to seeing her characterized ever since the 1990s of her being a white person,” Grehn said. “But, now that they’re changing it, they’re thinking, ‘Oh it’s because they’re changing everything nowadays,’ while we should be looking at it as they’re changing it to fit new standards that we have set now, that we didn’t have in the 90s.”

People continue to go as far as photoshopping Bailey to be white and shaming her for being cast in the film. Fans excuse this behavior by saying that they want the film to be how it was originally, which means having Ariel cast as a white woman with red hair.

“I think racism stems from pure ignorance,” Diallo said. “And I think it’s just people wanting to be combative.”

Although this film has received many negative waves of criticism, it has also done a lot for young African American girls all over the world. According to Global News, girls all around the world showed pure shock and joy after seeing a princess like them on screen.

Many of these girls have been stuck with one African-American princess throughout their childhood, and finally getting another African-American princess means that the representation of people of color is starting to become normalized.

“I recently saw this video of these young black girls reacting to Halle as Ariel, and it was so amazing and beautiful,” Diallo said. “They had so much joy and they were so excited and for little kids to see that, it shows them truly that they can be and do anything they want to do, and I think that’s so important within diverse communities.”

Disney believes that diversity in their company comes from including experiences from all types of people and cultures. So as they continue to diversify their films, Grehn and Diallo hope this will bring more attention to proper representation of people of color through films.

This comes from the fact that many people can see what happens when films include people of all races. When little girls see princesses that look more like them, they feel like they’re heard and represented as well.

“Having diversified princesses and characters is a way to help people find themselves at a younger age,” sophomore Haidyn Coleman said.

Many SHS students have struggled with stereotypes about their race and always found it hard to find representation of themselves in films. This contributes to the hope that Disney will continue to diversify their films so kids growing up now won’t struggle with the stereotypes they did as children.

“It makes me think of my best friend because she finally has someone that represents her even after 17 years,” Meece said. “It’s not the same white actors anymore.”

With the joy that this movie has brought to so many people, students like Coleman and Diallo hope that this will bring more people of color to films, especially within the Disney franchise.

With Disney being a very high-status business that speaks to children, it ultimately has a larger impact than what meets the eye. It could change the way that little kids of color grow up by seeing themselves in films and impacting views on self-worth.

“Disney needs to speak up. I think it’s about time that they start including people of color in things,” Diallo said. “The people that are so mad about this, they can stay mad at the end of the day.”