Last week was the D23 Expo, a time when nerds and Disney adults from all corners of the nation unite to preview the Disney company’s upcoming park and film release offerings. One of the most talked-about previews at the Expo was the teaser trailer release for The Little Mermaid, Disney’s much-anticipated live-action reboot of the classic cartoon starring Halle Bailey — of the celebrated sister duo Chloe x Halle — as the titular red-haired mermaid. Most people were thrilled about the teaser, praising its sumptuous visuals and Bailey’s stunning vocals in a snippet of “Part of Your World.” Most people, that is, except racists, who promptly took to social media to pee in their diapers about a Black woman being cast as a mermaid.
Almost immediately, a slew of very normal and well-adjusted adults took to social media using the hashtag #notmyariel to complain about Bailey’s casting and Disney being overly “woke.”
“#notmyariel @DisneyStudios Any reason why everything has to be black? are you starting to realize people are fed up and frankly bored? You do realize this is doing the opposite with racism yeah? I bet you that the Hercules actor and meg will be black? #gowokegobroke,” read one representative tweet, confusingly attaching a photo of future Snow White star Rachel Zegler (who is, quite famously, not Black) as “proof” of this phenomenon. Another tweet showing someone using AI to turn Bailey’s skin white also went viral. Noted transphobe and arbiter of great judgment Matt Walsh also got involved, writing on Twitter, “Hollywood changes traditionally white characters into black while claiming that the reverse would be ‘black erasure.; What this tells us is that, by their own admission, they are engaged in white erasure. It’s just that we aren’t supposed to notice or complain.”
The whiny tweets (which, it should be noted, happen pretty much every time a person of color is cast in a franchise) carried more than a whiff of absurdity, with its implicit suggestion that there’s some sort of sanctity involved in the casting of a busty teenage mezzo soprano fish with no legs. Some, however, tried to make the “argument” that because The Little Mermaid is based on a Danish fairy tale — specifically, Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid — to not cast a Danish-looking (i.e., white) woman would represent a deviation from the source material. Of course, the original version of the story involves Ariel cutting out her tongue in exchange for feet that bleed constantly when she’s on land, and ends with her dissolving into sea foam after she considers stabbing Prince Eric and his new wife to death; in the Andersen story, she also has green skin. So by arguing for the need for historical accuracy — again, we’re talking about a story about a mermaid who is best friends with a talking flounder – racists are once again showing their whole asses.
Luckily, the backlash doesn’t appear to be diminishing the happiness of young Black girls, who have been posting incredibly poignant reaction videos to the teaser trailer on TikTok. Given that there’s only been one Black Disney princess in history (Tiana from Princess and the Frog), the sheer joy of young Black girls at seeing a young woman who looks just like them up on screen is a powerful counterbalance to all of the infuriating online hate.
This week on Don’t Let This Flop, Rolling Stone‘s podcast about internet news and culture, cohosts Ej Dickson and Brittany Spanos discuss the Little Mermaid uproar as well as Queen Elizabeth death memes, Lea Michele’s Funny Girl debut, and thirst over a naked Martha Stewart.