Spoiler alert: the level of the discussion is so low that we find ourselves discussing the color of the skin (or should I say “scales”?) of the little mermaid, an invented character. On the other hand, the round on Peppa Pig, so this seems like a worthy sequel to the country where no one knows how to explain things to children. In the last few hours we read everything about the actress Halle Bailey and her portrayal of Ariel, following the launch of the Little Mermaid during the Disney D23 Expo. The controversy was already born immediately after the casting, when the choice of a non-white actress in the role of the little mermaid.
Forty-eight hours of comments of this content on Youtube: “white lives matter“,“ You can see that the ocean is polluted ”and others, topped off with thousands of clicks on the“ I don’t like ”button.
Let’s take a moment… what is it that we “don’t like”? What a fairy tale written by a Danish author – Handersen – contains a black character? It is a text from 1837 set on the bottom of the sea … you know? It is a place where neither people of different ethnicities who take the spritz at 19 nor talking crabs usually live. Any cinematographic or artistic transposition of the fairy tale, therefore, does not correspond to a historical-geographical documentary which must be faithfully taken up, but rather with the reinterpretation of an already unrealistic story. Beyond the racist comments, this needs to be clear to those who wonder why the original character: it’s a creative choice.
Some go further, saying that we should refer to original intentions about the author: he was white, certainly Ariel would also have been a white Danish woman. If you really care about the biological question – it’s already funny because, I mean, we’re talking about the DNA of a half-fish, half-person creature with a trillion red hair, but ok – it’s unlikely that Ariel could have been bright and shiny since in the abyss very little light arrives. There live animals like the jawfish and the vampire squid… not really the ideal place to sing cheerful songs with the little fish Flounder that would be devoured in half a second. Yet it doesn’t seem to me that anyone has ever accused Handersen of being unscientific, because it is a fairytale indeed. Fantasy.
In fact, I believe that the real reason that pushes someone to write “childhood ruined by the choice of aAriel black“And that of identification. Those who have always known the white little mermaid think they are unable to familiarize themselves with the new character, unable to recognize themselves in a princess with whom she previously grew up. At this point two reflections open up very important. The first is to try to understand why seeing a person of a different ethnicity hinders our ability to identify; Could it be that we continue – as a Eurocentric and / or Western majority – to think of it as a prototype? When we think of a person, we automatically think of it as white.
The second question concerns even more theempathy: we take this feeling away from the new Ariel that puts us in difficulty, we deepen the feeling of being “different” from the protagonists. Here, that’s what they felt entire generations of girls and boys who for decades have seen only a continuous succession of white princesses and princes. This is why the representation of different ethnicities, bodies and identities is the key. We leave room for characters who have not had it so far, we make sure that they can exist in fantasy worlds exactly like in the real one. Rabbits with two mothers, middle-earth black elves, Indian women in nineteenth-century countess dresses and future blue princes with typically Chinese features.
If anything the problem arises when they are white actresses and actors who, despite having billions of stories with equally white protagonists, play characters with different origins, taking away space for minorities. It happened for example with Ghost in the shell – 2017 – in which Scarlett Johansson recites the transposition of a manga set in Japan; or with the entire cast of The house of the spiritsbased on the novel of the same name by Allende set in Chile and with only white actors, with the exception of Banderas. These too are works of fantasy but they can be good occasions to give space to that “representation” I was talking about.
Finally, to those who complain that Disney’s choice is of marketing and not of real interest towards inclusion, I recommend watching the live reactions of the real recipients of this product; little girls and boys Everywhere in the world who get excited to discover that Ariel, this time, looks just like them. Will it be marketing? Probably, as almost everything is now, even if it does not seem right to me to reduce the talent and commitment of a black actress to the promotional hype. She was too just marketing – I said – we know this, certainly not those little ones who will sit at the cinema believing in a purple witch with six tentacles.