So much more to ‘Little Mermaid”s Bailey than both sides of online debate would suggest

Charlotte Murray, Staff Writer

Whelp. Twitter is at it again. The festering hotbed of hate that Elon Musk considers essential to free speech is the root of yet another racially charged attack on Black women in mainstream media. Disney recently released a teaser trailer for the new live-action Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey as Ariel. And after watching shots of Ariel’s tail mystically glide across the screen, we see a headshot of… a bird, a plane, no, a Black woman! Wow! Isn’t everyone so excited?! Well, it would seem not. The backlash has been quick and bitter, with the video amassing over two million dislikes on Youtube. Older white men in particular seem to be upset at the departure of the story from Disney’s animated 1989 version. But what do old white men and Ariel have in common? Nothing. This is confirmed by the fact that white men are not the target audience: young girls are. And yet people—adults—on the internet have still been quick to criticize everything from Bailey’s voice, to her face, and of course, her skin tone. In fact, one male user used AI to replace Bailey’s face with that of a white womens, claiming that by turning the “woke actor” into a ginger white girl he’d “fixed” the Little Mermaid. But as disgusted as I am by some of the openly offensive comments, I’m also displeased with the unrelenting, blind support of Bailey. As someone who is female and Black, I’m tired of the idea that spotlighting people of color is revolutionary, for no other reason than the color of their skin. When we group and assume that different people of the same race are part of a monolith, we lose what each person has to offer as an individual. Almost nothing about Halle’s identity other than her Blackness is being celebrated, and yet she is still being applauded for being inspiring, as attested by the tsunami of videos of young Black girls’ ecstatic reactions to the trailer. But I would push everyone to wonder why is it the expectation that these girls should be excited? I hope there is someday where young Black girls don’t blink at seeing someone who looks like them on the big screen, who understand that of course they can be a mermaid if they want to. 

People miss the point when they ask questions like ‘Why was a Black woman chosen for this role?’ Or, ‘What statement is Disney trying to make?’ For example, no white child goes into a Target, begs their parents to let them go to the toy section and stares longingly at the Barbies thinking, “Wow, that blonde Barbie looks just like me!” But the expectation is that young Black girls should be shocked and amazed at being represented in any way, shape, or form. So no, the problem isn’t that Bailey is Black. The problem, and the correct question we should all be asking is: why isn’t anything other than her Blackness being celebrated?