Okay, I’m gonna be honest here: I used to be such a Disney fangirl. I think most girls were. I lived for Disney Princess movies more than anything, though. And when “The Princess and The Frog” came out, I was ecstatic. A Black Disney Princess. Finally. And though Disney has entered a new phase of princess movies with the goal of making them fleshed-out, independent female characters (actually making them the heroines of their own story), I’ll always love the older ones. And Disney knows I’m not the only one, so they’re remaking them in live-action knowing people will come out to watch them. Which brings me to the point of this piece: The new live-action Ariel is going to be Black.
Not gonna lie, my first reaction was more exasperation than anything. At that time, I’d been a little tired of the idea of making an originally white character, seemingly on a whim, a different ethnicity. It just looked like a money grab to me, which it probably is to an extent. They know that Black people will come out to see this movie for the single fact that the lead is going to be Black. Yes, it’s representation, but it didn’t feel right to me. I could understand why some people were upset by it. You grew up with this character and this image of them that you hold in your mind. And now they’re changing things about this character.
But after thinking about Bailey’s casting and its implications as well as asking people for their opinions, I came to the conclusion that it really wasn’t what I was making it out to be. In the Tale of the Little Mermaid, her race has absolutely nothing to do with the story. It would be one thing to make Merida from “Brave” Black, because she’s a Scottish princess. Not to say there aren’t Scottish Black people now, there are, but I doubt there were in the time period Brave took place in, so it would be completely inaccurate and offensive at that point. Being Scottish is essential to Merida’s story and the way it’s told. From the accents to the way people dress, Brave is a story that can only be told the way it is.
Ariel’s story, on the other hand, is not tied to the color of her skin nor is the plot tied to a specific period in time the way Brave is. It’s about her curiosity and desire to be human. Once people can get past their initial reactions to the race change, they’ll be able to enjoy the new take on the old tale and the positive impact another Black princess will have on young Black girls everywhere.