🐬 Walt Disney Pictures live-action adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved story “The Little Mermaid” will hit theaters in the U.S. on May 26, 2023. It will feature the accomplished singer and actress Halle Bailey in the role of Ariel.
Danish author Hans Christian Andersen penned the tale in 1837, and it has remained a perennial favorite among fans of fairytales and fantasy. So, a beautifully filmed, live-action version of the story should be welcomed, especially from Disney, which often excels in this realm.
But controversy has erupted over the casting choice for central character and mermaid Ariel. It breaks the tradition of rendering Ariel a mermaid with white skin. Apparently, there are people who have forgotten that this is a fairytale—a fantasy, in which anything is possible, from sea creatures that sing, dance, and speak English to a lovely mermaid with dark skin.
More sensible voices include Daryl Hannah, who portrayed the mermaid Madison in the film Splash with Tom Hanks (1983) and is arguably one the loveliest and best known mermaids next to Ariel. Entertainment writer Carly Levy takes a deeper look at this in her article on Cinemablend: “Splash’s Daryl Hannah Defends Halle Bailey’s Little Mermaid Casting.”
I’d like to think the creative choice of Halle Bailey was based on her ability to carry the role and to reflect the heart and soul of Andersen’s original tale. While it is a story rich in nuance that encourages interpretation, the basic themes of love, hope, and sacrifice are at its core, as is Ariel’s desire to gain a soul that survives death. The universal nature of these themes renders barriers of race and color flimsy at best and, by my lights, non-existent.
In my novel Children of the Pearl, I created a diverse clan of mermaids without thought to controversy. My mermaids are adventurous, strong-willed, and courageous, and each has her own unique coloration. Why? Because mermaids are beautiful visions born of fantasy.
Let Halle Bailey have her moment. As Carly Levy so well stated, give her a chance to “show mainstream audiences that there is room for Black actors in roles you haven’t seen them in before.”