Letigio: Little Mermaid and race representation

·3 min read

Disney dropped the trailer of its live action adaptation of the iconic animated movie, “Little Mermaid,” on Sept. 9, 2022.

The trailer wonderfully showcases the amazing vocals of Black actor Halle Bailey as Princess Ariel, sporting the signature red hair.

And discussions on the upcoming movie set the internet ablaze with commentaries that are not all pleasant.

One side is praising Bailey’s performance and celebrating the representation of Black women in Disney.

The other side is criticizing Disney for casting a Black woman for the role of a beloved red-haired character in a fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.

Others who are on the more neutral side said that casting Bailey must not be considered a political statement, and she should just be celebrated because of her performance.

These commentaries from online intellectuals, digital natives and even trolls have brought again the continuous discomfort of the world with the representation of racial minorities in movies.

The discussions have reached the Philippines, too. A post written by digital native, Ibarra Tomas Siapno Rn, has gone viral on Facebook—he pointed out the inherent racism of Bailey’s critics.

Siapno said some Filipino critics are okay with multiawarded Broadway artist Lea Salonga taking the role of Eponine, a white character in the play “Les Miserables.” Yet they criticize Disney for casting Bailey as Ariel.

“We are proud of Lea’s achievements when she represented us, Filipinos. See? That’s why representation matters. It validates one’s existence. The same what Halle Bailey will do to the Black community as much as the animated film did to the redheads,” read a part of Siapno’s post.

Representation of race in media has changed rapidly in the digital age. With media turning global, films, art and music are accessible to people from diverse backgrounds.

According to the organization Race To Cure, “The youth of today are passionate about inclusive representation, and they are making their voices heard on what they want to see more of in modern media.”

As a young millennial, I value race representation. I believe that owners of international film productions whose audience is the world should do their best to represent diversity.

However, I do not wish for the likes of Disney to be mediocre in championing race representation. To cast diverse actors simply because representation of racial minorities is fashionable.

No, representation is not an outfit that would grow out of style in the future. Representation is a form of deep respect to people, cultures, histories and beliefs.

Disney and other Hollywood giants should be creating films that showcase diverse cultures and stories, and cast them appropriately instead of just “colorizing” the white characters.

The release of “Raya” and “Encanto,” the two movies that showcase Southeast Asian and Colombian cultures, respectively, is a step in the right direction, but clearly Disney still has far to go.

As for Bailey being the Little Mermaid, I do not see an issue on the color of her skin.

The story may be Danish in roots, but mermaids are not bound to human racial stereotypes. I mean, they’re mermaids.

Bailey’s voice in the trailer was also magnificent and she looked stunning. I am excited to see her performance in the movie.

The debate on Little Mermaid’s casting perhaps will continue until the movie is released in 2023.

This ongoing online debate is the best time to discuss what representation truly means for our globally connected generation.