Letter to the Editor: The remake of the Little Mermaid

Devan Shepard

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I have been wondering how I should approach this topic. I was arguing with people all day yesterday on Reddit over this, and that convinced me that I have every right to express my opinion on this subject even if others do not appreciate it.

Halle Bailey, who is a very talented singer and actress along with her sister Chloe, has recently been cast as Ariel in a Disney remake of “The Little Mermaid”. I have to be honest and admit that I do not like it at all. It is not because I don’t think Halle is talented, because I think she is amazing, but I do not like when they change white characters to black characters because it is unoriginal and feels like tokenism to me. 

This is something I have noticed as the years have gone by. If a new black character is introduced, it’s always in a reboot and as an extension of a white character. The fact that they kept the character’s name as Ariel really sealed the deal to me that this was tokenism. Miles Morales, who is the new Spiderman, works because he is his own person, has his own name and his own adventures. He is not Peter Parker. I really do not understand why Disney just did not create a new movie for a black mermaid. People are referring to this new character as the Black Ariel, and that, to me, is insulting. Every time there is a new black fictional character they are always referred to as the black Superman, the black Spiderman or the black Iron Man.

Why can’t there be new black superheroes, and black fictional characters in general, with their own names, their own universes and their own stories. When I was younger, there was this tv show that came on The WB called “Static Shock”, which I loved as a young black boy. When I look back on that show I really appreciate how original that character was, and how he had his own name, his own style and his own world. So, why is it that today black characters can’t have any of that?

That was the question I asked on the discussion platform Reddit and I was shocked by the responses I got. I had people tell me, a black man, that I was racist for caring about black representation. Then I got those who agreed that it was pandering, but that the little black girls watching this would not know it was pandering, and so I asked, “Why do black girls and black kids in general have to get pandered to but everyone else does not?” No one responded when I asked that question. Then there were those who said “Well audiences wont react to an original character,” and my response to that was “How do you know?”. “Black Panther” shattered records when it was released, so why can’t there be more original black fictional characters with their own stories?

Again no one would answer my question. Two things were very clear to me when I was responding to people on Reddit: People only read what they want to read and will attack anyone whose opinion does not align with theirs or their motives, and that it is important to never change your opinion just because others do not like it. 

I have shared this opinion with my friends and family and while most agree, others did not, but they at least took the time to see my opinion from my own point of view. I wish we could get back into that line of thinking instead of attacking everyone who has a difference in opinion. I am also not attacking Halle Bailey, as I think she will do an amazing job. I, however, will always criticize hypocrisy when I see it, as I notice these same people who get applauded for diversity when they make a white character a minority character, are the same ones who tell black creators that their original, black characters are “too black” and then change the characters to white. This is a topic that is really important to me, because I am a young black male who loves animation and good original storytelling. But that no longer seems to exist anymore especially for black characters.

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