Singer Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel in the planned live-action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid has inspired some nasty online backlash. It seemed inevitable that, as The Walt Disney Company continued its trend of remaking beloved animated titles in live-action, there would be a new version of The Little Mermaid. The 1989 film is widely credited with rejuvenating the company’s waning animation studio and kick-starting the Disney Renaissance. As one of the company’s most profitable and beloved titles, both critically and commercially, it was always going to be a top choice for a glossy remake.
In May 2016, Disney announced said remake was to be directed by Rob Marshall (Mary Poppins Returns), with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda collaborating with the original film’s composer Alan Menken to write new songs. The past month has seen the film’s cast being built up of unexpected choices, from Melissa McCarthy as Ursula the sea witch to Awkwafina as a gender-swapped Scuttle. But the biggest news was, of course, the casting of Ariel.
Last week, it was revealed that the title role would be played by Halle Bailey. The 19 year-old singer is best known as one half of the duo Chloe X Halle. The sisters have toured with Beyoncé, been nominated for two Grammy Awards, and acted as series regulars in the Freeform sitcom Grown-ish. The casting of Bailey wasn’t one many fans had predicted, but it was one that delighted many. However it didn’t take long for the usual arguments to be made against her casting, with the lion’s share of points being directed at her race and lack of red hair.
It is depressingly unavoidable how the vast majority of anger directed towards Bailey and Disney is rooted in racism, plain and simple. The main excuse being used to just the often virulent fury on this matter is her lack of red hair. That point overlooks how the kind of red hair Ariel has in The Little Mermaid is a shade completely unnatural to people with red hair. It’s a cartoon red, deliberately so to match the movie’s technicolor palate. While it is possible to dye your hair that shade, it’s very difficult to maintain and would never look as if it had grown from your own scalp. The chances are that any actress playing that role would be wearing a wig, and that natural red hair would hardly be a mandatory requirement for anyone auditioning to play Ariel.
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