Disney Mermaid Controversy - Tempest in a Teapot Gone Bad?

In 1989, Disney released its full-length animated movie called The Little Mermaid to join its portfolio of classics, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. Since then, several live action movies have been made with some success, but none have reached the audience love that the original holds.

Then, earlier this year, Disney decided to produce a new version of The Little Mermaid movie as a live-action movie, rather than an animated effort. On September 9, they released a trailer for the new movie, which showed that the part of Ariel (the Little Mermaid) will be played by Halle Bailey. Ariel is no longer a white girl with orange hair but a black girl.

Immediately, there was an outcry. Some people, particularly African Americans, hailed the Disney initiative as a positive breakthrough but others expressed outrage that Disney had moved away from white ethnicity. Whenever a decision like this is made, there will be a certain number of detractors. This trailer provoked not a few “Dislikes” but a whopping 1.5 million.

So, we asked ourselves, what is the problem? A review of the comments offers a hint.

Some were humorous, poking fun at the change, but others displayed a more troubling tone. While many of these negative comments generally tried not to appear racist, most were. Many attempted to depict their dislike by calling out the change from the original Danish story. They stated that in that story, Ariel was white. On what basis could Disney change that?

However, even in the original, Disney made significant changes to the Danish story including depicting Ariel having red hair whereas the Danish original was a blonde.

Overall, the negative comments are a mixture of laughable and vile, so let’s hope our little girls are not subjected to them. When grown-ups can take the time and effort to comment negatively on the race of a fictional character in a movie about mermaids for little girls, it is a statement more about them than about their target.

The bottom-line is the mermaids are fictional characters. They have tails rather than legs, they live underwater, and, in movies, their dialog is dubbed into whatever language their audience speaks. If they are really fish-like, perhaps their skin tone should be green.

When, back in 2018, we developed the concept of the Five Enchanted Mermaids, we did so purposely, as a vehicle to foster diversity. Each mermaid comes from a different race – White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian with the fifth being red haired (not an ethnicity but we decided, why not?).

Our aim was to depict a group of friends with a common gender and age but coming from different races. The key that we strove for then and are still doing, is that race should not matter. And in the global economy of 2022, many schools and friend-circles across the world, youngsters from different races regard each other as being friends and nothing more. To them race doesn’t matter.

Perhaps the Five Enchanted Mermaids should audition for a new range of Little Mermaid movies with the part of Ariel played by Zari, Jenny, Sofia and Anna, and of course Emily.

The new Disney production will premiere in theaters on May 26, 2023, quite a way off so, as one of our community said in a tweet recently:

“Since the new # littlemermaid doesn’t come out till May, and @Disney hasn’t released # newArial dolls allow me to introduce you to Zari the mermaid by @Lois_Petren.”

Go Zari!

The Five Enchanted Mermaids celebrate diversity in our world and the belief that each child deserves to have a mermaid that looks like them. Through their individual personalities and traits, they weave stories that help teach skills for children in this age group.

​The idea for the Five Enchanted Mermaids was born to provide a fun but educational backdrop for girls aged 3 to 7 years. The characters address emotional skills (making friends, resolving conflicts, coping with change, making their own choices and “being good people”) and educational skills (learning to read, the alphabet, counting, symmetrical shapes, time, value of monetary coins/notes) that are important at that age in the development of young girls.

​The stories use each of the diverse mermaids as a role model for behavior and values.

​LifeMadeSimple, LLC and acclaimed children’s book author, Lois Petren, are collaborating to provide a series of books, party accessories and other appropriate items as mermaid gifts for girls to support these goals.

Visit us at www.fiveenchantedmermaids.com

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