We’ve been here before. Back in 2019 when Disney announced that the live action remake of A Little Mermaid would be portrayed by singer Halle Bailey, there was an immediate, vocally negative, uproar. There was also an immediate standing ovation for the very idea that this iconic movie mermaid would be portrayed by a brown-skinned woman with natural hair styled in ‘locs.
Now that the trailer has dropped and been viewed at least 20 million times, it’s clear that demand is high for this remake. Little girls – and big ones too – everywhere are crying tears of wonder and joy on Tiktok, Facebook or Twitter, posting their reactions to Disney’s imagery. “She’s brown, like me,” were the words of one tiny tot. The imagery is powerful, as is Bailey’s Beyonce-approved voice. At the same time, when you scroll the comments on many stories discussing Bailey, it’s also clear that many people are unaware of the folk tales – and global history – that refers to and pictures brown-skinned mermaids.
My original post (dated 2019) about the film included a number of images of lovely fan art that showcased brown-skinned mermaids. I also provided some historical context with a more global view.
As I wrote years ago: “Reading the comments under some of the art reveals that some users are unaware that the idea of water sprites, water gods or mermaids can be found in a variety of cultures. The truth is this: Stories of mermaids cross all continents. In pre-invasion South and West Africa, there is a deity known as Mami Wata that – to some – is portrayed as a half fish-half woman. The Smithsonian Museum of African Art has a nice online platform dedicated to understanding the history of these important water deities, which also were introduced to several countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as humans were involuntarily enslaved and transported during the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.
The art in the Smithsonian collection features brown-skinned mermaids, indicative of how mermaids are viewed in other cultures around the world.”
The Smithsonian site is still available, as are comic and coloring books on Amazon
As an 80s baby who went to the movie theater with my mom to watch Ariel belt out “Part of Your World,” I was taken in long ago by the Disney version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Simply put, as cartoon rewrites go, it was well done. And the music (barring a few racially questionable language/verse choices) was memorable. The soundtrack to the film was the very first CD that I bought with my own money from Tower Records at my local mall. Many of those same songs will make a reappearance in the new version. All that said, this new Ariel is a gamechanger. Jodi Benson, the voice actress behind the original Ariel, also gave Bailey a cosign after the trailer released at D23.
The remake features new music by Lin Manual Miranda and renowned Disney songwriter Alan Menken. We will also see Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Awkwafina as Scuttle, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric and Jacob Tremblay as Flounder.
Disney knew what it was doing by casting Bailey — it was forging a more inclusive path for its vault of beloved stories and it also was generating buzz for a 2023 release that likely will break records. Just like The Lion King live-action remake (which, amongst many face of color, featured Beyonce as the voice of adult Nala and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar) and the Aladdin live-action remake before that, featuring fresh voices and considering full representation for each of the roles merely enhanced the features of a good story and made Disney additional millions.
I’ve said it before and will say it again: True diversity, done for the right reasons, is good business.