Welcome back to all of the members of my little kitten’s pride! I know its been a while since you’ve heard from your favorite little kitten but things have been busy busy busy in my life. This is why it has taken so long for me to get to this little rant but rest assured there will be several coming your way very soon!
So as you may have seen from the title, I have a small problem with the new mermaid on the block but here’s the deal. If you want to say I’m racist then GTFO now. If you want to start slinging that shit around without hearing me out then you’re not worth our time. Just because someone doesn’t agree with something doesn’t make them racist/anti-LGBT/anti-Semitic ect. if they have actual reasons other than “I don’t like this group”. So let me start off with this whole thing has nothing to do with the skin color of the new Ariel and everything to do with viral marketing and the impact of changing up a 30-year-old iconic brand. It also has a little to do with representation and how it has been changing lately but I’ll get a little more into that at the end.
Let me preface this by saying if ANYONE other than Disney was doing their own version of the little mermaid and cast someone other than a pale skinned redhead for the part of Ariel I would be all for it and wouldn’t have a problem with it. The fact of the matter is though this is a live-action remake being done by Disney themselves. You know the company that for the last 30 years has pushed the following images down our collective throats of what Ariel looks like. I was only 11 when the Little Mermaid came out in theaters and ever since then as a girl who loves Disney I haven’t been able to escape the fact that Ariel is a slim, pale-skinned, redhaired, straight girl who needs a bit of help in figuring out who she should trust. Yeah, she’s a bit gullible if you ask me. Anyway as I’ll get to later on except for skinny and straight this girl in the cartoon is just like me and I loved that so I didn’t mind seeing that everywhere.
This brings me to my main complaint. That image is literally everywhere! On Lunchboxes, as Dolls, on Shirts, in Books, on bedding, they even have people dressed as her taking pictures with kids at theme parks! So here’s one of my big concerns, will all of the marketing change now? If it does then you have to start asking will there be two Little Mermaid marketing campaigns going forward? If not then what do you do? If you market the new Ariel then you have to rebrand everything you’ve done for the past 30 years, fire the girls playing Ariel in the theme parks and replace all of it. If you don’t and you stick with the original look then honestly whats the point? Right now a lot of people are cheering about diversity being forwarded in the movie industry by this but if you don’t see it reflected in the merchandise and parks of such a huge company then has anything really been done or is it nothing more than a token move to make you look like you’re progressive in the eyes of fans?
This brings up another marketing point, what if they go with both? Now they run the risk of oversaturating the market with Little Mermaid things. Collectors won’t collect as much because you’re just adding on what basically amounts to a bunch of recolors of what they most likely already have. Little black girls buying the new dolls may offset this but that all depends on how much stores decide to put on their shelves. Stores have limited shelf space and they aren’t going to want to double down on the space that Little Mermaid takes up so you’ll see either the new or old take a back seat to the other which depending on which ones more popular versus which is stocked more will drive the sales. Then imagine you have both versions working the Theme Park photoshoots! Do they both come out at the same place at the same time so you have dueling Ariels for the pics or do they each have separate photo ops? If separate you’ll have to find some way to differentiate between the times they are out if on a schedule so that people who want a pic with the black one don’t show up just to see the white one and vice versa, not to mention if you do that you’ll have to find some way that people won’t take offense with to say “Hey your little mermaid will be out at 3.”
So as you can see just from the marketing side of things changing a 30-year-old iconic character has a lot of hurdles that most people just aren’t thinking about that go beyond “I don’t like it because she’s black!”
Now we get into an area that’s a little shadier, a little more iffy to talk about. Representation in film and just in general really. Now I’m all for diversity and representation in film, tv, books ect. Ect. My big problem with it is this, is representation really a good thing to push if it takes away from another group that has looked up to a character for a long time. For example, I have no problem with a black Hermione Grangier in the stage play of Harry Potter. I loved the books and always thought of her as a white girl but I think that’s because I don’t ever remember Rowling saying what color her skin was. So as a white girl myself unless a skin color is mentioned I assume my own. If something is made from this and that skin color is changed it really doesn’t phase me. However, as a light-skinned redhead, I have recently seen several of the characters I can relate to suddenly become black and while I am fine with the characters as they are played by these people I also miss the fact that I no longer have these characters to look at and say “Hey they’re like me!”
For the longest time since I was a kid probably as far back as The Little Mermaid, there was a spunky strong female reporter that traveled with four pizza-eating radical turtles to kick the butts of the Foot Clan ninja’s. That’s right I’m talking April O’Neil a strong female character of Irish Descent if you go by her last name with bright red hair. Not only that but when I was a kid I wanted to be a reporter or a photographer just like April, or like Jimmy Olsen, Supermans’ best pal! Guess what that scrawny sidekick of Superman with the red hair and freckles is now a buff good looking black man in the CW Arrowverse shows. While I love his character, I miss the Jimmy Olsen I grew up with. I let this all go by saying “Hey it’s an alternate earth it’s not surprising Jimmy is black here.” But still that’s two main redheads that are now gone and now Ariel makes three. I’m now down to the various Phoenixes in Marvel or maybe Black Widow but honestly, while I love those characters, I’m never going to grow up to be a mutant superhero or a Russian mega spy turned hero and while I’m not going to grow up to be a mermaid I did see myself in Ariel’s rebellious streak against her father for love. I mean as part of the LGBT community I know what it’s like to have my crush seen as forbidden by others.
This doesn’t just stop with redheads disappearing though. In TV and Movies lately, there is a whole huge run of this going on. Deathstroke is becoming Latino his daughter is becoming Asian his son who is like the whitest white boy possible in comics is also becoming Asian. In the much panned Daredevil movie, Wilson Fisk was played by a black man. I’m also not just focusing on race here either we have sexual orientation being thrown into the mix as well. In comics, we had the Ultimates Universe where suddenly Colossus was gay and more recently Bobby Drake AKA Iceman was outed as gay by Jean Gray and his younger self. The lists for these go on and on and while I love seeing diversity I think there’s a way to do it and a way not to.
You see what I’ve mentioned above is the way not to because you have taken a character from an already established fan base and given it to someone else. It’s like when Scarlet Johannsen played Major in Ghost in the Shell there was a huge uproar because a white woman was playing an Asian character. She was stealing their character, she was appropriating their culture, she was an evil woman! Yet we don’t see that same thing traveling the other way because quite frankly no one gives a damn about changes if it’s changing for the better of a minority no matter who it puts out. And I get it I really do, as a member of the LGBT community I loved seeing Iceman come out as gay, however, I thought his outing bordered on doing it the wrong way. Colossus was definitely done the wrong way in my mind.
See to me, there is a right way to do this, and that right way is to introduce a new character that can take the mantel of a hero to the minorities whether it be race, religion or sexuality. I think in recent years Marvel has done it the right way several times and I would like to see more of it like this. Sam Wilson becoming Captain America was the right way to do it because it’s another character having an identity passed down to him. Sam has inherited the shield, they didn’t just wake up one day and say “OK Steve Rogers is now black!”. So the black community now has a Captain America they can look up to and everyone else still has a Steve Rogers that hasn’t been changed that they can relate to still. Ms. Marvel is another great example of this. Kamala Khan has taken on the name of Ms. Marvel her favorite superhero after gaining superpowers of her own (although I still agree with Kevin if they named by the power she should be Ms. Fantastic, not Ms. Marvel but that’s a whole other rant maybe.) In this case, we still have Carol Danvers that everyone can like and we have a new Ms. Marvel that the fans can get behind because of her race and religion. This is the right way to add diversity into the media. Write it for the diversity and then cast it for the way it’s written. Also, yes I think this would have worked for the Little Mermaid and here’s how!
This either would need a live-action Little Mermaid that has a similar Ariel to the original cartoon to come out first and then make a sequel with the new girl they have picked, or instead of making a remake of the cartoon make this new live-action movie a direct sequel. Either way, it is the sequel that’s the key. You see with 30 years having passed in real life, why not let 30 years pass in the movies. Introduce this new Mermaid who is black and can sing. Let her fall in love with someone on the land. Let her know of the story of Ariel and how she found her love on land and how she made the deal with Ursula to be able to go and win him. Have this new mermaid say “well if she can do it so can I!” and set out on her own adventure to try and find love. It can almost be a total rehash of the original with tweaks here and there to keep it just original enough and suddenly you have a brand new mermaid filled with diversity, you have a new movie with new songs for a new generation and best of all you were able to do all of this without taking the original character from those that grew up with her. In this way, everyone wins even the merchandising department who now has two mermaids to play with that don’t conflict with each other and could actually be paired up on lunch boxes and shirts (especially if they add the older wiser Ariel into the sequel meeting this new kid somehow).
I’m all for inclusion and diversity. I’m all for people being able to see themselves in popular characters but I think there is a good way to go about it and a bad way. From these two major standpoints that I discussed here, I think Disney went about this in a bad way and I think they missed out on an easy way to have done this that could have kept all parties happy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go comb my Ariel dolls wonderful red hair because my kiddo got hold of her and likes shaking dolls and making them dance till their hair goes all over the place!
Until next time love you all,