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Whitewashing, Blackwashing and all that Jazz

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, July 6, 2019

So by now, anyone who is on Twitter (and possibly other social media I dare not touch) is aware of this whole kerfuffle over the newest Disney live action remake, which happens to be The Little Mermaid. It has been announced that Ariel will be played by an actress who is NOT Halle Berry (her name is Halle Bailey) but IS a person of color.

There's a whole rejoicing wave from some parts of twitter, a whole decrying wave from another part of twitter, and general war (as always) on who is racist and who isn't when discussing this.

Before I make any point about this, I wish to make my position clear so you're aware where I stand on the particular matter:

Personally, I don't mind nor care about this particular casting choice. I am not interested in seeing the live action remake either, just like I have not seen any of them of my own choice yet (mainly because I really cringed watching the couple that I did see). If the remake was a 2D or 3D animation like the image I've posted for this article, I'd probably give it a watch at some point. The biggest reason it's a ‘meh’ for me, is because I've already seen this movie.

I'm not someone that can easily (or at all) be spoiled about a new movie but you can bet I'm not interested in watching the same EXACT story that goes through the same EXACT scenes with the same EXACT plot devices and is just a little more tech-savvy.

I'll gladly and happily watch new iterations of the same plot but that is an entirely different type of remake. Which brings me to the point I want to make.

I am convinced that if Disney didn't remake The Little Mermaid with just a new color palette but everything else held constant, people would feel far less controversial about it. Why does it need to be Ariel, Ursula, Sebastian and Triton? Are they the only royalty in the seven seas? Are we going on the premise that there's a range of races and innumerable cultures on dry land but just one in the entirety of the oceans?

Give us an all black (or super colorful, fish and sea mammals do tend to have a wild color scheme) merpeople cast, set in some place in the oceans we haven't been before, and give them the same plot, but spin it differently. Make bold cultural choices inspired from actual cultures people of color have built (inspire audiences to get to know them, too!), make the plot progress in different ways in order to get to the same stages, and create something fresh and new, which will still be a Little Mermaid story.

As it is now, it feels more like white folk's forced hand-me-downs, where the plot will move in a white-people manner, the culture will be white people based and only the actors will be black. I don't much care for it, but if I were in the position of a person of color I'd be more frustrated than triumphant. And I've been there- when they made Hercules, I went to see at least a respectful approach towards Greek heritage, culture and history/mythology and instead I got a Las Vegas travesty that had nothing to do with me and didn't feel anything like my culture. I remember being really disappointed and frustrated and frankly, pissed. Even though I do like some songs in there. (okay I liked all the songs in there)

One of the points I'm trying to make is that simply changing the race is a superficial and disingenuous choice to make, and it looks just as bad and phony when you get white people in POC roles as it does on the reverse (look no further than the Last Airbender live action remake…).

The second point I'm trying to make is that instead of rehashing the same old food, the menu should expand. In each story there is world building to make, new places and horizons to cross and a whole new richness to tap into if only you put just a tiny bit of thought to it. Even when using the same plot, you can get such rich and diverse outcomes (just look at what Pixar is doing).

New additions to pop culture with more diversity shouldn't be so uninspired, as if people of color have nothing to bring to the table except their skin tint and so we pull that exact skin over the same stories created by the white/western folk as if that's the only thing there is. It shouldn't make me uninterested to watch it, but excited and intrigued. Do it like The Last Airbender (the original). Not like its live action version.

Give diversity depth, give it life. Right now it's just shallow and dead and sounds suspiciously like pandering to the trends of the times, and not to actual needs of social groups out there.

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AmeliaP at 6:01PM, July 10, 2019

But... but... Isn't it a Danish tale? Shouldn't Ariel be a "half-fish-half-white-woman"? (Disney's live action, it's a thing I have to be paid to watch XD).

Abt_Nihil at 5:25AM, July 9, 2019

El Cid: It's not about having one's "African heritage represented", but about not having to feel excluded because of one's skin tone. In the end, it's about the social group associated with a given skin tone, not about any culture or heritage. And representation can work with any kind of character. I'm sure enough people identify with Pixar's Cars!

Kou the Mad at 2:18PM, July 8, 2019

@Dat Sketcher When it comes to The Last Airbender, The Air Nomads were Based on Tibet, Fire Nation a mixture of Japan and Korea, Water Tribes are Inuit, and Earth Kingdom is China. So the movie actually DID screw up there.

bravo1102 at 1:34PM, July 7, 2019

It's gonna have the new songs that were written for the B'way musical so there is some new content. Best production I read about was the one in the Philippines that used Asian shadow puppets for many of the undersea characters.

Banes at 8:16AM, July 7, 2019

I’d be more interested in a new character, a mermaid of colour, in the same universe as Ariel (regardless of whether the older Ariel appeared). I like an expanded universe. But that’s only if it was an animated movie. These live action reboots I have no interest in. But I agree with you ... I don’t like the idea of just retelling the same story in either case.

bravo1102 at 7:22AM, July 7, 2019

As if it matters the live-action Disney remakes include all the new stuff done for the Broadway productions. So they're not total rehash of the original. There have been Asian Ariels but not black. Yhe Aladdin live action followed the Broadway casting with a black genie. Aladdin in the original story was Chinese but everyone accepts him as Arab because it is the Arabian nights.

Tantz_Aerine at 2:57AM, July 7, 2019

DatSketcher: As an aside, whenever I saw a character in a Hollywood movie being Greek I groaned, because they were almost always cast as the movie villain and/or the idiot or the servant. And they never had an iota of actual greekness to them- bright outliers in this being MASH as far as I recall and ...that's it. Even in the Canons of Navarone the Greeks were the extras (and the traitors) in a movie set in frigging Greece involving the Greek resistance.

Tantz_Aerine at 2:55AM, July 7, 2019

DatSketcher: By all means share your thoughts! We don't have to agree and we don't have to fight if we disagree! As far as I remember, originally the little mermaid was described as white (hence my TLAB comparison). But that's not the point. Even if she weren't, by now she's a cultural icon with the character design she has. What I'm saying is that POC SHOULD be part of the status quo, and that is accomplished ONLY IF new cultural icons are made that are originally designed as POC. Take another example: Miles Morales is a cultural icon now, he IS Spiderman and he's amazing! Spiderman is black (and he can also become Asian, Native American, etc) but Peter Parker isn't recast as a black person. Black Spiderman (if you'll allow the term, I think Miles is a combination of different races?) is done right, how things should be done. And he'll withstand the test of time in a way the Little Mermaid live action won't. This was my point.

Tantz_Aerine at 2:53AM, July 7, 2019

Bravo1102: Well there are many colorings of sea creatures, but sea mammals are mostly greyish right? // El Cid: I have to agree that would be a bold and interesting take! And I absolutely agree that this is easy PR for Disney.

bravo1102 at 2:04AM, July 7, 2019

*Norfolk* = merfolk as in amphibious fish tailed humans.

bravo1102 at 2:02AM, July 7, 2019

The mermaid is described in the original story as having white skin and blue eyes. Many European images of Norfolk have being very pale, even translucent skin. They are aquatic after all and are supposed to resemble the dead. Norfolk only got friendly in the 19th century. Before then they were sirens drawing the unwary to deadly shoals, often the aquaticly cursed souls of suicides who had drown themselves in those waters. And pale, deathly pale. A human wouldn't need the deep melanin of a sub saharan African for living underwater.

El Cid at 9:25PM, July 6, 2019

This is just gross. Anyone who sees their African heritage represented in a mermaid character is just being cynically misguided. Mermaids aren't people. Black Ariel isn't descended from the Motherland any more than white Ariel is descended from... wherever... Bravo said Denmark, so I'll go with that! I think Disney just does stuff like this for the free publicity. It sure as hell doesn't make any logical sense, given the way melanin works. Mermaids should be like translucent jellyfish people or something, with glowy angler fish tendrils. Now THAT would be a bold creative decision!

DatSketcher at 6:43PM, July 6, 2019

Oh yeah! Another point I'd like to make is that "blackwashing" isn't exactly the same as whitewashing. This is because of the power imbalance between races. Also, using The Last Airbender doesn't exactly feel like the best comparison I think? It's because in the original animated series, characters are explicitly Asian, while the original Hans fairytale of The Little Mermaid doesn't make (at least to my flawed knowledge) that she's white Anyway, hope my words don't sound too condescending or impolite;;;; I just wanna offer my thoughts on this popular subject as a POC myself!

DatSketcher at 6:36PM, July 6, 2019

But yeah even though I'm not interested in the new movie I'm still happy for all the little girls who see themselves in the new Ariel, because there are some! And so far Disney hasn't pulled off a J.K.Rowling where they've pretty much only added diversity for the sake of seeming woke when really they have no respect for it. Ugh you should really see Rowling's tweets and how she picked out the name for her Chinese character lol. Can't even consult one Chinese person???

DatSketcher at 6:30PM, July 6, 2019

Hmm...I agree with you that I have no interest in seeing this new movie because it's just gonna be the same plot. However, I think you should also see that sometimes POC don't need a "reason" to exist in a story(a story that is based around their culture). Sometimes...we just wanna be there? And not have it be so special? I know some other POC don't see things the way I do but as a Malaysian-Chinese, I would FREAK out and call my mom whenever Malaysia was mentioned in a movie, or if there was a Chinese person in the MAIN cast, especially if it's not some story where a white guy goes to China and the story focuses all on him. I appreciate and love my culture but to only see myself when it's relevant in a story? I'll be seeing less of myself then. We wanna be the status quo too. Plus, even though the story is Danish I don't think it's been explicitly mentioned in the Hans Christian fairytale that she's white??

Tantz_Aerine at 6:09PM, July 6, 2019

mks_monsters: Thank you, that's generally what I'm talking about.

Tantz_Aerine at 6:06PM, July 6, 2019

VinoMas: I can go with "rainbow casting" (this is not a term I have heard before) if it's presented that way, and as being a product of this particular artistic choice and if the entire cast is rainbow casted (I don't think it's going to be the case, but it's early to tell yet. I hope you're right). However I will not be cowed from speaking about what I think is cheap exploitation of an extremely hurtful and serious situation exactly because this is about White Supremacy. In my eyes this is White Supremacy wearing blackface and seeking to expunge itself with cheap tricks rather than correcting the course about anything. Thank you though for considering my points, even if we might have differing opinions. // ShaRose49: that's exactly what rubs me the wrong way. And I agree with the live action remake comments too.

ShaRose49 at 1:18PM, July 6, 2019

The big issue to me is not that Ariel is black, but that they’re just making her black to look like they’re super-progressive and inclusive, not because it’s important to the story they’re telling or even just because they thought it’d be cool to have a black Ariel. It’s shallow and self-righteous. I’m also friggin’ annoyed with these live-action remakes, as if the originals were somehow not good enough as animated feature films. There seems to be a stigma that everything is better if it’s live action, but that’s just not true, some thing aren’t as effective, and translate weird to live-action.

VinoMas at 12:50PM, July 6, 2019

Also (sorry I have to throw this in) Rob Marshall is the director who is famous for rainbow casting Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1990s). Rainbow Casting is when you cast for the part, not for how the actor looks. So in that movie. A white and black couple had an Asian child. It was a non-issue because the entire show was rainbow casted. I'm pretty sure based on the cast already hired that this is very much rainbow casting, and I'm here for it.

VinoMas at 12:47PM, July 6, 2019

Interesting point of view on this topic. I agree with many of your points and some of the points here but this issue is at it's heart about White Supremacy. Any other way of looking at it is subpar to what's really going on. It's a lot of whistleblowing and I get concerned when people try to sway around race. That's my opinion.

mks_monsters at 10:05AM, July 6, 2019

I personally don’t like changing established character whether you are changing a character’s colour, nationality, religion, orientation, gender or what. For example, this is Ariel who is an established character. She is white, a woman, a red head and a forward thinker. As much as I am open to a retelling with a black or better yet, Polynesian mermaid, they should create a new story entirely then. In other words, make a new Little Mermaid not Ariel the Little Mermaid.

Tantz_Aerine at 6:41AM, July 6, 2019

Usedbooks: That's exactly my point, thank you!

Tantz_Aerine at 6:40AM, July 6, 2019

Meemjar: That's right about Princess and the Frog, and actually a great example of how to do it right. Nobody complained because it was set right and built up right in terms of character design and setup. That's my point. // Bravo: Exactly! I'd go watch that!

IronHorseComics at 5:24AM, July 6, 2019

This is Disney, they have a long history of pandering.

usedbooks at 3:51AM, July 6, 2019

And, like you said, making the same story in a new color palette doesn't make it a new story. It's the same old crap. But it has added insult of ignoring culture. It's the same faux pad as the phrase "colorblind" when referring to race. Races are different. They have history and culture, and being blind to it is not respectful. Acknowledging peoples' cultures and representing them is part of being accepting, understanding, and enlightened. (Although, as meemjar mentioned, the culture of mythical fish people is not exactly tied to human races. It's a weird soap box to stand on.)

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