WHS Students Comment on Conflict Surrounding Live Action Movie The Little Mermaid 2023

Diya Bhattacharya '25, Contributing Writer

Disney fans across the world and under the sea are excited for the live action remake of The Little Mermaid. The movie is part of The Walt Disney Company’s one-hundred year celebration and will be released on May 26, 2023, starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, and Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric.

While many are looking forward to the upcoming release, some are unhappy with the casting of Ariel. In the original 1989 film, Ariel is a white cartoon mermaid whereas Halle Bailey is a black woman.

When the casting was first announced in 2019, many were happy. However, some were angered — especially Twitter users — saying Ariel should be played by a white woman. Some even went as far as to say that white people were being erased from American media. In the last three years the movie was forgotten, until Disney released its trailer on September 10, 2022. Twitter users immediately took to the platform to share their concerns. Some were in favor of the casting, applauding Disney for diverse casting, while others tweeted their disapproval under #NotMyAriel.

#NotMyAriel is a feed of microaggressions directed at the black community One user even went as far as to say “Take her rights away.” Another group of users have used twitter to express the blatant racism under the hashtag.

WHS sophomore Grace Bridges commented, “It’s a fish. People are being overdramatic.”

Another argument comes from the scientific community–that a creature with dark skin cannot live under water.

WHS sophomore Hannah Wallace counters this take on #NotMyAriel. “The scientific community’s argument is invalid. They say it’s impossible for a creature with melanin to live in the ocean because of the lack of sun. Well, they forget that mermaids aren’t real, so it doesn’t even matter,” Wallace commented.

WHS sophomore Sahana Karthik, added, “In my opinion, having a character young black and brown girls can see themselves in is important, because representation is important. Disney has a history of skewing representation. Take Aladdin (1992) for example. As a young Indian girl, Jasmine was my representation, but she wasn’t even for me. She was Arab, but Disney chose to combine some of the most stereotypical parts of both cultures and make a fairytale out of it. The audience Disney caters to, children, need to see characters they can really relate to. It builds self esteem, or even pride in their identity. It’s just one of the reasons why representation is important.”

“Disney is for young, susceptible audiences,” WHS sophomore Veronica Njuguna explained, “black and brown girls want a beautiful young woman that looks like them too. This is a significant step in the right direction because representation does matter. It shapes the way young girls see themselves.”

When asked about #NotMyAriel, Njuguna responded, “It’s upsetting when people take away the importance of a black Ariel. The majority who claim that their ‘white representation’ is being taken away now know how we feel when we don’t have any representation, or at least good ones.”

As a black woman, Njuguna shared her experiences with Disney princesses as a young girl. “When you think of Disney princesses you think of the blonde princesses and Belle. That was the representation for little white children. I only had Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (2009), but she wasn’t even human for most of the movie, she was a frog. Nobody can really see themself in a frog. We deserve better, young black children deserve better.”

While many in the Westborough community agree with Karthik and Njuguna, that representation matters, some do not share the same sentiment.

A source who wishes to remain anonymous says, “I don’t have an issue with representation, but this feels forced. Instead of replacing a white woman they [Disney] should create another story with a black character.” They further stated, “This version of Ariel is just to spite white audiences.”

Despite the controversy surrounding the casting, The Little Mermaid 2023 is predicted to do well in the box office. Disney has also announced animated movies with women of color leads and live action Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (2024) featuring Latina actress Rachel Zegler. Many see all of these upcoming Walt Disney Company projects as a step in the right direction for Hollywood, but still believe there is much to be done in making sure there is respected space for everyone in American media.