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So About Black Ariel...

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 17, 2022
likes!



I liked her. The trailer dropped and I didn't quite like the trailer, but I liked her.

Hear me out, now.

I think Halle Bailey can absolutely, 100% work as a mermaid. A little mermaid, if you like. There's just something in the way she's set up that convinces me she can pull off the “underwater creature” effect for the purposes of a fairy tale.

What I didn't like in the trailer was …everything else. The criticisms are many and I'll get to the politics in a bit, but mainly she didn't feel like she belonged in the setting and the setting itself didn't feel real. More like a prop. Even the way her hair moves in the water looks fake. I'm not sure if that's because the rendering isn't done yet in the movie, but it really distracted me. Plus, the colors are all dead. Realism is great but the real world is full of color.



And as I hope I've proven in my comic Without Moonlight, you can totally be in a gorgeous place and have gruesome, realistic stuff happen that are very real. I don't get that from what the trailer (admittedly too short) showed us. Even for a teaser, it should have been …well, colorful! Unpolluted underwater landscapes tend to be vibrant, even if there's just the water and the sandy sea floor. And the world of The Little Mermaid is supposed to be lush with underwater life if I remember right.

So that put me off even though I'd totally watch more Black Ariel.

Let's move to the politics. There's a lot of loud debate on whether Ariel should be black or not. Her original concept was as a white girl and she comes from a fairytale by a super white, north European guy (Hans Christian Andersen). For me that's a flawed argument (though not without its basis) for two reasons:

Disney sanitized the hell out of Andersen's Little Mermaid to the point the fairytale is unrecognizable. So to claim that Ariel should be white just because she is inspired by Andersen's story doesn't hold much water (no pun intended). She was, however, initially conceived as white in this Disney version, and many generations of children grew up with a white mermaid princess. That, to me, is more sincere in that if you're looking to make a FAITHFUL live action version of the animated feature, then you should stay faithful to the character's design. The argument gains strength if everything else about the live action version remains faithful to the original, except for Ariel's race. It's like snipping off a cutout from that worldbuilding's fabric and shoving in a different piece of cloth, and expect it to look good. If Disney's plan was to make a live action recreation of the animated original, frame by frame, they shouldn't change a thing regarding character design, including race. Just changing Ariel and then going faithful to every other aspect of the source material is just giving fodder to everyone that feels this is only done for identity politics and a quick cash grab.

But even keeping Ariel white and being totally faithful is boring and lazy and overdone, and thus annoying.

And here's where I'd like to posit my thoughts on this, and ask that you hear me out.

I feel that the original character design of the underwater world is in fact the “cut out” that has been shoved in, rather than this live action version. I'll explain.

Everything that is underwater is coded Jamaican. The underwater landscape feels very Caribbean fringing reef. The songs have a Caribbean feel to them and so do the fish and so does Sebastian. So the entire worldbuilding would push for the underwater characters to be black Caribbean. ALL OF THEM. From Triton to Ariel's sisters to Ariel herself. They have no business being white with that setup.

Why didn't we see it? Because we were primed to expect white characters in any setting unless the creators specifically did their homework and cared to be faithful to how their world works. Granted, a fairytale and fantasy doesn't need to obey such rules, but when your worldbuilding is that consistent, then maybe it would add to its lush richness if you did obey them. More so if you want to make a bid for realism so all in all, a black Ariel is better in the Disney iteration of the fairy tale, concept wise, in my humble opinion.

What about above water?

Personally I'd love for everyone to be Caribbean, but given the estimated era where the story takes place (roughly 18th century), we are in the age of colonialism and the Caribbean was alive with all sorts of Europeans, so having Eric stay white gets a pass. If you want to be realistic. And, if you're accomplished enough, you could even discuss that ugly part of white history without sounding preachy.

However… why be so limited?

If you want a black Ariel, why not go for broke? Don't remake The Little Mermaid with your animated feature as your basis. Have the balls to have an all non-white cast, set in the Caribbean or why not, in the great barrier reef in Australia, in the pre-colonial era, and only use Aboriginal people, lore, and social structures to tell your story. Give your audiences new horizons!

Or, go super faithful to Andersen's concept and recreate the underwater world of Denmark. And keep Ariel white.

This is gorgeous too.

What is the point of all this discussion?

That it's not the character design race swap that is the problem. It's that it is lazy, and thus feels disingenuous and more political than creatively inspired. And is that wrong? Eh, that's a discussion for a different article. It's not very artistically sound, at least the way I see it.

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comment

anonymous?

EssayBee at 11:17AM, Sept. 23, 2022

Ozoneocean--The long-haired, bearded, hook-handed Aquaman was still the blond white guy; they just made him "gritty" in the comics (it was in the gritty 90s, afterall). The DCAU (starting with his origin in Superman: The Animated Series--and an enjoyable arc, it was) went with the 90s Aquaman as well.

Ozoneocean at 6:17PM, Sept. 20, 2022

@EssayBee The Momoa Aquaman is apparently based on a version of Aquaman from the comics who looks pretty much exactly like that XD The thing about comics is that everything seems to have existed in them at some point. They contain more alternatives than the universe!

TwistedAmy at 9:22AM, Sept. 20, 2022

Instead of a re-make with Disney changing Ariel design. I would have loved to see a brand new mermaid fairy tale with Halle Bailey as the beautiful mermaid she is.

EssayBee at 3:22PM, Sept. 19, 2022

Also, funny that no one had a problem with Jason Momoa as Aquaman. Last I checked, the "source" Aquaman wasn't half Mandalorian.

EssayBee at 10:23AM, Sept. 19, 2022

Ozoneocean--Exactly! I don't know how anyone can watch any of the reaction videos of the little girls watching the trailer and getting excited that Ariel is a POC and not tear up a bit. It's really touching, and it's a genuine emotional response that would be completely lacking if a white actress had been cast. (Seriously, it's not like little white girls would watch the trailer and get excited that, "She's White, Mommy!" It's something white folks--and I'm a white guy--take for granted--just one more example of priviledge.) Politics/sociology aside, Ariel is a fantasy character--her skin color is completely irrelevant to her character. If race/ethnicity/skin color had importance for the story/character, that'd be problematic. But that's not the case here. (And I don't buy any sort of "historical accuracy" arguments here. It's a fantasy fairy tale.) So I say, "Good on Disney!" They made a lot of little girls feel special.

Ozoneocean at 9:17PM, Sept. 18, 2022

Has anyone mentioned the issue of representation? It's not really politics that are the thing, it's that movies and TV shows reflect the modern population of the USA (the country that makes these) and the consumers that will be consuming these things- Culturally it's important that people are able to closely identify with characters in stories they watch. Commercially it's also important for these companies because it helps them capture and keep markets. That's not cynical, it's realistic, and it's really a pretty good idea! Though yes, it'd be better with original characters.

TENSA1 at 6:31AM, Sept. 18, 2022

Thing is, I have no problems with black Ariel at all. I actually don't care and the fact that people are making such a big deal about it is comical. Or at least, it would be if this wasn't yet another instance of the Disney company being a toothless zombified shell of itself rebooting one of their franchises to rake in the profit. All this controversy is just giving them what the attention want and now they're going to, yet again, rake in their millions regardless of the actual quality of the work.

Furwerk studio at 3:55AM, Sept. 18, 2022

I kind of funny that it feels like this is just a shield against criticism of any kind. These movies are shit and aimed at little old ladies and men who took their daughters/sons to the movies, sat through them, hated them because they are animated and now are nostalgic but have enough pull with American media to demand a live action remake because of out of touch and just wrong studio propaganda (that animation is just for kids/is a genre and other garbage like that). I learned this as I work in an industry that deals with a ton of people who need assistance, which happens to be quiet a few elderly, and a common factor among the ones who watch movies is they treat live action as this weird, actually happening right before their eyes through this thin window instead of just a bunch of images being rapidly replaced at a high rate of speed.

cdmalcolm1 at 11:36PM, Sept. 17, 2022

I’ll say this, I’m tired of Disney and Marvel changing the characters skin color to be more “diverse”… She is a Fish. Her skin should be any other color outside of human skin tones. There are no fish in the sea that have a constant overview of humanoid skin which is affected by the sun.

Ozoneocean at 10:21PM, Sept. 17, 2022

Hahaha you'd run into different troubles if you set it in precolonial Australia with Aboriginal people because then you'd run into the problem of imposing a white fairytail on a non-white native people- there would be cries of "Why don't you celebrate the traditional stories of these peoples rather than imposing alien ones from a different culture on them?" The Caribbean is a perfect compromise because you're getting that non-white thing, plus sea culture, and you don't have to worry too much about imposing an alien story because the population there are all new to the region and the culture is young.

bunnicarot at 6:58PM, Sept. 17, 2022

I personally don't care much that they race-swapped the character, that's not a huge deal for me. If I had to try and come up with some kind of criticism for it though why not create NEW bipoc characters that children can get attached to and have that 'oooh it's someone that looks like me!' on the tv moment. THAT would require some creativity, some genuine effort. I hope for the best for this actress because I imagine idiots online are sending her all sorts of nastiness, what little criticism I have of decisions like this has nothing to do with her and purely my cynicism of megacorporations like Disney and evidence we have gotten in the past that they don't actually give a crap about inclusivity or progressiveness. Just look at how they treated John Boyega in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, he's gone on record about how he and the other bipoc actors felt during the production of those films.

marcorossi at 12:36PM, Sept. 17, 2022

So I didn't watch the trailer, and I'm not a fan of the little mermaid to begin with, so I would not watch the movie anyway. However my problem isd this: would you accept a white Mulan? or a chinese Pocahontas? In the past it was common to have white actors representing Cleopatra or chinese kung-fu master, now this is not accepted because it is considered offensive to the relevant ethnicities. Northern european is also an ethnicity. However for some reason in the USA northern european is not considered an ethnicity because the USA self image is that white (northern european) is normal and it is only the others that are ethinicities, but this is iself a bit racist, so... uh... ambiguous.

davidxolukoga at 12:20PM, Sept. 17, 2022

This is why I watch FOX searchlight movies

Tantz_Aerine at 12:17PM, Sept. 17, 2022

Ecchi_kitty: I'd watch it.

ecchi_kitty at 12:06PM, Sept. 17, 2022

...why is everyone focused on the black part, that's really more of a light brown anyway, and no one is talking about the part that's blue/green and covered in scales? Just go for broke and make the full body covered in scales, with huge cuttlefish eyes and a nictating membrane.

Commissar_Tarkin at 10:35AM, Sept. 17, 2022

I just don't see the point in live-action remakes of famous animated movies, to be honest. Like... WHY? Why can't you make something new goddammit, why does it have to be a remake, and a live-action remake of a cartoon to boot? If we need to show a black mermaid, can't we have an original story about a mermaid-like creature from Sub-Saharan-African mythology (I'm pretty sure some coastal peoples must have one) instead of Ariel again?

ThrisbyDude at 10:04AM, Sept. 17, 2022

This is nothing new, especially nowadays. Hollywood always tries to scrunch up the originals {and remake them} with weird agendas and stuff. Disney preferred CGI-realistic animals for The Lion King (2019), can't think of an example for Warner but they're part of this as well, then NBCUniversal ruins VeggieTales with new voices that replaced the original creators for said show. We shouldn't throw "tomatoes" at the actors though, because chances are, they'd probably hate being starred in a project they don't want to be part of either (learned that from a VeggieTales fan animator - not my words, however this advice applies for my sake).

J_Scarbrough at 10:04AM, Sept. 17, 2022

I mean, I'm gonna play a little devil's advocate here, because I see two sides to this argument. On the one hand, I agree that why should it matter what race (more specifically, skin color) a mermaid is? Considering they're mythical beings that don't exist in nature, for all we know, their skin color could even be green, blue, or gray, since they are sea creatures and all. On the other hand, this ongoing trend of race lifting, white washing, and/or gender-flipping already-existing characters has gotten way out of hand, and it really needs to stop. Absolutely nothing wrong with representation of course, but why not create some new, original characters who already specifically represent these races or ethnicities, rather than change already-existing characters that have been established as who they are for so long?

Jason Moon at 7:50AM, Sept. 17, 2022

The Halle girl is super duper cute but I don't see her as Ariel. Besides, she was already a red head, I love my redheads. I personally agree with Ply, I have no intentions of funding Disney.

usedbooks at 5:47AM, Sept. 17, 2022

Ftr, I haven't actually seen any of these remakes. From what I've seen in trailers, all of them strip the joy and fun away that was in the original animated musicals but keep the general stories -- which are all flimsy and shallow to start with, but music and cute talking animal mascots carried them in the originals. So, I don't really know who the intended audience is. As a kid, I liked some terrible, universally panned movies though. So if the kids enjoy it, let them. 🤷 Nothing worse than telling a kid something they love is garbage.

usedbooks at 4:32AM, Sept. 17, 2022

Recalling one of the greatest joys of my childhood was Romancing the Stone. I loved adventure movies, but all the heroes were men. Joan Wilder was the first female protagonist that was unquestionably the lead, squaring off with and defeating the villain single-handed. It was important for me to have that as a kid.

usedbooks at 4:24AM, Sept. 17, 2022

I prefer animation to live action, and I hate remakes. So, none of Disney's live action remake projects are for me. That being said, representation in mainstream media is extremely important, especially for children, so if you're going to crank out more titles that add nothing else new, the least you can do is cast to an underrepresented demographic. Even if the motive is (and I'm sure it is) a cash grab, those kids who never get to see themselves as main characters won't know it. They just get to make the connections able-bodied Caucasian boys have been able to make since the dawn of cinema.

PaulEberhardt at 4:18AM, Sept. 17, 2022

Another movie the world didn't need, and that has nothing to do with the Øresund being be a bit chilly or someone who wears nothing but a seashell bikini top to live in or what I think of the people who sprayed "racist fish" on the little mermaid's rock in the Copenhagen port (even if her skin colour is clearly bronze with hints of verdigris). I don't approve of what Disney did to the Jungle Book either - like the Little Mermaid, the original movie at least had some cool musical numbers going for it as well as some cartoony fun, but they mucked up everything else. Everything that followed only made it worse by cutting down on the little remaining edge the cartoon style gave them, too. Note that I don't mean to defend colonialism or some such seal droppings, quite the opposite, but in both cases the original stories have a literary richness that is sorely missing in all of Disney's adaptations and could have been adjusted for modern audiences without dumbing them down so much.

TheJolle at 2:03AM, Sept. 17, 2022

It's another Disney real-life remake of one of their classics. In other words, unwatchable garbage

plymayer at 1:15AM, Sept. 17, 2022

Probably won't see it though. Not really interesting in funding Disney's politics.


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