Facebook Twitter

Mermaids don’t exist. Why are we arguing about their race?

Critics of Halle Bailey’s casting argue that the lead role cannot be Black, but does their reasoning carry any weight?

SHARE Mermaids don’t exist. Why are we arguing about their race?
Halle Bailey sits on a rock in costume in a shot from the teaser trailer.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Bailey is facing backlash over her casting. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Photo courtesy of Disney.

Since the teaser trailer for Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” live-action movie was released last week, it has garnered millions of views and an outpouring of positive feedback from audiences.

Amongst emphatic support for the movie, however, comes backlash from viewers critical of Disney’s decision to cast Halle Bailey, a Black singer and actress, as the movie’s lead role.

Mermaids are pretend. How are people using ‘science’ to justify what race Ariel would be?

Critics of Halle Bailey’s casting say they are bothered because the 1989 portrayal of Ariel is white, but Bailey is Black. They argue that the “original” Ariel was white and the studios should not deviate from “tradition.”

Screen_Shot_2022_09_15_at_4.54.06_PM.png

Screenshot of Twitter

Some critics cite science as their reasoning. In a now deleted tweet, one twitter user tried to argue that because Ariel lives in the ocean she would be subject to less sunlight which, in turn, would mean that she would produce less melanin and therefore have lighter skin.

According to this user’s scientific logic, every sea creature would have to be some shade of white, but tropical fish are many different colors, including the “ultra-black” viper fish NBC News reported about.

In an interview with Business Insider, folklorist Sascha Coward says that mermaids are not biological creatures. He describes them as symbols present in many cultures, not solely in western folklore.

He argues that people are using bad science to justify their racism. He provides an example of scientific justification, saying, “Ariel lives in a warm coral reef, the biota around her implies she is not of European descent. White skin and bright red hair would also be a dead giveaway to predators.”

Coward reasons, “With that in mind, looking at other aquatic mammals, Ariel is comparatively malnourished. A real mermaid would probably be a large tan-skinned creature with plenty of blubber, hairless and sleek with paddle-like flippers!”

With this reasoning, Coward claims, Ariel could even appear to be a manatee (of which Christopher Columbus saw three in 1493 and mistook them for mermaids.)

If science is used to determine the validity of the folklore of “The Little Mermaid,” it also may be worth recognizing that in the 1989 animated Ariel’s friends are a talking seagull, flounder and crab (which has a striking Jamaican accent that may lend credibility to Ariel being black).

The real question is, if everything about Ariel’s story is fictional and/or mythological, why does her skin color matter?

When does ‘The Little Mermaid’ come out?

Despite the criticism, positive support for the movie and Halle Bailey’s casting has outpaced the negative.

Upon the trailer’s release, people began posting their children’s reactions to seeing Halle Bailey as Ariel, so much so that #littlemermaidliveaction was trending.

Excited fans don’t have to wait much longer for the much-anticipated remake. “The Little Mermaid” is slated for a theatrical release on May 26, 2023.