Disney, The Little Mermaid, and the Politics of “Woke” in a Polarized World

Halle Bailey as Ariel
Pictured Halle Bailey as Ariel from the upcoming Little Mermaid (2023)

Social Media is awash with examples on top of examples of backlash to “wokeness” in the media from messaging to casting choices of famous characters in remakes. But, what does this say about how easily consumers are manipulated in an age where engagement is the new gold.

The Little Mermaid is a story by Hans Christen Anderson about a love-lorn mermaid who gives up her life under the sea to be with a human prince who never comes to love her. She is transformed to seafoam and sentenced to 300 years of good deeds to earn her soul and go to heaven.

Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid
Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid

This is, of course, a far cry from the Disney classic, “The Little Mermaid”, about a mermaid who wishes to live on land, falls in love with a prince, is “debatably” swindled in a deal with a sea witch, but perseveres and overcomes the trials and tribulations to get all that she wanted

The Little Mermaid (1989)
Box art for The Little Mermaid (1989)

Now there is a remake of the Disney version and there’s a mountain of controversy. Not because of some plot addition or subtraction, but because of the race of the actress, Halle Bailey, who is Black.

The nature of online discussions about race is one that can only really be described as toxic at best. In some very vocal circles online, there is a mindset that anything not made explicitly for White Males as a target demographic is prima facie “political” or “woke” in modern parlance.

The Etymology of “woke”

“Woke” as it has become used commonly is a bit of a jump from its origins. The most straightforward translation of this term, which is mostly employed in AAE, is “aware” of situations that had an impact on Black people. A spiritual awareness of the world and the machinations that surround Black people, with roots dating back to the 1930s. It existed as a term to remind Black people to remain vigilant about the systems that affected them and shaped the world

Kwame Ture
Pictured Honorary Prime Minister of the Black Panther Party Kwame Ture

Being “woke” meant, in some manner, being aware of the “justifiable paranoia” of Blackness, despite decades of systematic lulling into a political, philosophical, intellectual, and spiritual sleep that was a major objective of the American project

Marcus Garvey
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind” – Marcus Garvey

Since “woke” was always more of a Black-oriented notion, similar to “Hotep” and “Ashe” something that was mostly utilized around Black people, the change to it becoming a catchall for liberal to leftist tones in the media is puzzling, to say the least.

“Based” vs. “Woke” dichotomy

A similar evolution occurred with the term “based” which is often used as an antonym to “woke”. “Based” under its early slang definition used to refer to the act of “freebasing” cocaine and then being addicted to “freebase” or “base” being a “Basehead” and then “Based”

The term Based found its second life under the usage of Lil B the BasedGod. Lil B’s usage of “Based” was clarified to mean being yourself and comfortable in ones skin. A message of positivity reclaimed for the origins of the derisive term.

But Lil B, was memetic in the early 2010s for his unique performing style. He was discovered by various users of 4chan and his term based was appropriated to just mean cool.

4chan however has a problematic view of what is cool and before long cool just meant right wing. So “based” became a rightwing term. Not exclusively used by rightwingers, but commonly used by them. The term now is used primarily by right wingers referring to partisan’s being sufficiently right wing in the eyes of the various online right wing movement.

The term “woke” has been removed from its cultural context, assimilated into a broader memetic culture, stripped of its original connotations, and spammed into oblivion by would-be detractors of any and all material that fits the required criteria. Such things as

  • Not featuring a white male main protagonist
  • Featuring a white female protagonist
  • Featuring a Black protagonist of any kind
  • Feature a queer character of any kind
  • Featuring any non-white character that is in anyway more capable than a White Male character
  • Including non-white characters in fantasy worlds
  • Including discussions on race
  • Including female characters that display any characteristics other than subservient and docile to their counterparts
Jordan Peterson
Pictured “Lobster Man” Jordan Peterson after losing his Twitter account

This list is not exhaustive, but it will still suffice to illustrate the fact that the term “woke” is now predominantly used as a pejorative to vilify content that deviates from the traditional mainstream. It will always be “woke” to have certain characters, races, or genders that exist out of the prescriptive norm.

Put simply, “based” means good and “woke” means bad. And neither of them mean what they meant in the culture they originated in.

“Woke” Capitalism

Woke washing
“Woke washing” is the appropriation of ethical and progressive values as a form of advertising just to make more profit while hiding the dark side of conventional capitalistic business management.

The current society, moment in history, world as we know it can be argued to not exist in the ways that are commonly understood to be “real”. To cite the French Postmodernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the world exists as he posited in a state of “hyperreality”.

What we think of as the real world has been abandoned in place of simulations of what the real world should be. ” Should” carrying a lot of the weight as because there are simulations and simulacra of “things” but those things may be more of less real that the simulations of them.

Representation of a people is said to have a tangible effect even though the material conditions of the marginalized classes has not been improved. They will continue to be immiserated but simultaneously told their systemic oppressions aren’t real either anymore or ever.

Pink washing
Pink washing by Dean Spade

That is to say, for all the Women Billionaires sexism and patriarchy still exist and may even be propagated by the women of this class.

Black Billionaires, such as Jay Z and Diddy, can and do exist but often they play little role in helping their communities, instead selling the snake oil of striver and hustle culture whilst appropriating Black radicals.

LGBTQ billionaires, such as Peter Thiel support politicians who punish other queer people who aren’t as financially lucky.

Class politics shows that anyone, though they may be marginalized by their race, gender, or sexual orientation they’re still a part of the class that dominates the world. And if they’re of that class they will be loyal to that class over any identity.

All of these are symptoms of the ways that capital consumes everything, removing the fangs of radicalism, making the unpalatable marketable. Making revolution less of an idea and more of a commodity.

“Woke” Capitalism

It is easy to believe capitalism has won. It has managed to consume what we understand the world the world to be. Capitalist propaganda has become so entrenched in western culture that the basis tenets of capitalism have become dogma. As Mark Fisher once wrote, “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

Disney as a company has historically faced numerous criticisms for various labor violations.

Disney is a megacorporation. Its morality is not linked to social justice, its morality is linked to profit. To wit, if a company, a publicly traded company at that, isn’t making money, regardless of its supposed morals, it will be forced to bend to the will of the market. If the market were to go back to favoring racist caricatures and blackface, there would be an outcry but the products would be made as long investors were happy.

This is not to indict a singular corporation, this is to analyze the system of production as it currently exists, because as it currently exists the value of “optics” fluctuates. Disney for all its supposed “wokeness” is still driven by the will of the investors. Marvel, one of Disney’s biggest cash-cows is currently producing a movie with a hero, Sabra, named after a massacre, and is currently helmed by an open and avid Trump supporting chairman in Isaac Perlmutter.

Perlmutter shaking hands with Trump
Perlmutter shaking hands with Trump.

Other brands in other industry don’t escape this analysis either. Whether it’s Nike supporting Colin Kapaernick and the fight for civil rights, while profiting off of child labor, or Nestle and child labor, or any tech company and child labor. The ideological goal of the company is what makes money.

What is the point of “The Little Mermaid” (2023)?

Awards Walt Disney won over the years.

“The Little Mermaid”, the 1989 version has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%. It has an IMDb rating of 7.6 at the time of this article. It won 2 Academy Awards and 3 Golden Globes. As an artistic piece it was as successful as it could be in its time. So why is there a remake?

“The Little Mermaid” the 1989 version is a product being recycled for a new general audience. The remake is coming not in spite of the original’s success but because of the original’s success.

There is a market for the Disney remakes and “The Little Mermaid” is the next film on the slab as it were. There isn’t some great flaw in the original that will be addressed. If anything, the record of the remakes shows it will add flaws rather than correct them.

“The Little Mermaid” is an artistic work, but it is also just another product, made by a company that at the time of creation of the “original” Little Mermaid, explicitly stated that it had no great yearning to make great artistic works, only profits. The art and import of their work was only a trifling concern, a bit of lucky happenstance or in the words of at the time CEO Michael Eisner,

Michael Einser
Michael Einser, former CEO of Disney

We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make a statement. But to make money, it is often important to make history, to make art, or to make some significant statement … In order to make money, we must always make entertaining movies, and if we make entertaining movies, at times we will reliably make history, art, a statement, or all three.”

Art, as it exists is a nebulous and debatable term. Depending on who you ask or what you’re referring to anything can both be and not be art. So what is the value of it? To Disney, the value exists not in the labor, not in the product even, but in the reaction and reception to the product. Baudrillard refers to this as sign value, that is the value tied to the prestige of something. Something being a Disney product, received by the throngs of Disney fans, critics, and any other pertinent demographic allows for the work to be assigned a greater value than by other studios and corporations.

As Eisner says, they’ve no obligation to make art. That’s not the end goal for the company and that hasn’t change since his reign. Disney has, as a conglomerate, gotten bigger and bigger with more intellectual properties than they could ever hope to use in a decade. So much is gated behind their ownership to be cycled in and out at the whims of the owners.

Making art is a side effect of the company’s core mission. Winning awards, gaining acclaim, these are immaterial concepts unless they drive up the value of the Disney brand. If they could get away with doing less with more they would, as seen in the current saturation of their Marvel and Star Wars TV shows and movies.

Jean Baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard, on nostalgia and reality

That sign value is the driving motivation for the remake. The original’s value, its story, its whole existence, is not being measured against anything to frame it as “bad” or even “outdated”.

The remakes that Disney has made for the most part have trivial plot additions such as “The Lion King” making Shenzi a more pronounced Hyena leader, but still subservient Scar.

The remakes are also fond of unnecessary plot clarifications, as seen in the live action “Beauty and the Beast” where due to decades of bad faith readings of Belle as a victim of Stockholm syndrome, the romance of the film is supplanted by overt displays of Belle fighting back and not getting along with the beast. These changes only serve to distort the tone or nature of the characters, while leaving the plots almost wholly the same.

What exactly is the goal of the remakes, then, if it isn’t to improve the film’s quality or fix a flaw? What purpose do they serve?

Childhood Commodified
Childhood Commodified. Art by Jared Rodriguez

Disney is both attacked and defended by people who may or may not have been fans of the “original” work. The ideological backing is still the same Whether or not they were fans, their outrage is generated not based on the cinematic quality, but some supposed realism about fantastic creatures.

Those attacking Disney for their supposed “wokeness” are ahistorical, because many of the IPs Disney owns have been accused of “wokeness” in their times. Belle, Ariel, Mulan, and Jasmine all existed in response to the old princesses in Disney’s canon. There is no prelapsarian point of Disney because no one is arguing for a return to Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

Those defending Disney are culpable as well though because Disney’s manner of addressing previous flaws is to smooth over their past with regards to racism.

Gender is fine to address for Disney, many of the princesses have been shifted to be more assertive in their stories, more active protagonists, but as seen in Dumbo’s remake, Disney goes very much out of its way to sidestep it’s racist history. Disney has no problem with erasing its history. And defenders likely to bring it up.

So between the two sides of the discourse based on a rage at a change, there is the core and the crux of the entire thing. Pandering an underserved demographic as cynically as possible and then reaping the engagement from the backlash. This outrage is in turn utilized as a way for the company to signal they’re not on the side of those detractors.

Detractors then become lumped together as the disparate groups of critics, Anti-Fans, and of course outright bigots. All thrown together in a hodgepodge of antipathy, from which Disney can then use both in marketing the products and the brand itself. Taking a stand, in defense of their brand, without having to run the risk of alienating paying customers.

Disney fan or Disney hater, both have the same value to the company.
Art Credit to Madeline McMahon

It costs Disney nothing to not appeal to said outrage merchants. Triggering their outage yields positive coverage and general attention. It also allow them to branch into new demographics and fresh consumers. Per Chartered Institute of Marketing,” … Futerra revealing surveys that suggested 88% of those polled are disappointed if their brands are not helping them be ethical.”

Under the current marketing climate, engagement itself is valuable. The trailer for “The Little Mermaid” was met with over 1 million dislikes. With a large portion being complaints of “wokeness”. What is to note here is the critique is not about the subject being broached in the movie, not about the quality of the film, the visual effects, the sound production, the quality of the actress. It is strictly about a perceived slight in the casting of Ariel.

Under auspicious of being “fans” right wing provocateurs, racists, grifters, and all of their compatriots have a similar pattern of preserving the original, but not on the basis of the story. Disney for instance is quite hesitant to address historical oppressions, like for instance racism is something that almost universally gets ignored in their works.

So the argument is not an indictment of Disney for politicizing a story, the politics of “The Little Mermaid” from bodily autonomy to monarchism to queering of villains, none of that is discussed. Politics, in this case, is for recasting a character who never existed and for whom race isn’t a substantive aspect of the character. It’s a criticism of certain colors of skin existing.

Credit to Lindsay Ellis

The rub in this case is that “fans” who are outraged want a race “neutral” world where only white people are allowed to exist unquestioningly. It’s white supremacy in the face of a liberal capitalism that doesn’t seek to challenge it but to ignore its arguments in place of its money. Disney is no friend to the underprivileged, but if the underprivileged are where the money is, then that is where Disney will cater.

Get woke, go broke?

This concept of medias and companies “becoming woke” and then “going broke” is a frequent one in the current climate of culture warfare. It’s a terrific slogan in terms of its inherent memetic potential, but it neither accurately captures the actual reality nor seems to be losing favor in light of the repeated failures of “woke” to “go broke.”

Examples of this can be seen with Captain Marvel, but this extends back to Ghostbusters 2016 and even into Shera and video games. Despite some conservatives’ claims, there’s very little evidence of getting woke leading to broke-ness. For all the complaints about Disney’s supposedly “woke” agenda, they’re currently, due to some “creative” accounting ahead of Netflix in total streaming subscriptions, not to mention their purchases of other media companies.

The fact that Disney’s financial portfolio is expanding due to its dominant position is hardly a compliment to the business. Just to be clear, Disney would be the best-known firm to “go broke” as a result of “becoming woke,” though they’re currently in a better situation than they’ve yet been. This comes after a year in which their stock price fell by 50%, only for them to later shatter a record from advertising commitments to the tune of $9 billion, according to Fool.com. And according to Disney’s own statistics, revenue growth for the quarter and nine months grew 26% and 28%, respectively

Conservatives versus the current mainstream

The former leading faces of conservative news media
The former leading faces of conservative news media.

Conservatives in the west, especially American conservatives, are very passionate about the various cultural war focal points. From the “War on Christmas” to Drag Queen Storytime, Conservatives seem to be in a constant state of grievance.

The current state of media is filled with examples of conservative ideology, from film to tv to books to video games, conservatives are not wanting for choice. But, that hasn’t dampened their complaints about “woke” media.

Defund the Media sign
Defund the Media sign at conservative protest.

From Star Wars to Avengers, the grievance culture hasn’t been wanting for talking points. Shaped by a zero-sum ideology any small caveat made for minorities is treated as a direct insult and erasure of white people.

Consumption as Politics

There is an idea that supporting a media or not supporting it is a form protest is quite the bewildering development in a political landscape that is drifting ambiently towards the collapse of systems millions depend on. In a way it seems silly to bemoan the love or hate people feel for media properties for the fact that those media properties only exist to be consumed. The idea of media consumption as a form of politics is a growing trend across the political spectrum and it is a clear example of the consumptive-politics of the present era.

Whether Ariel is Black or white doesn’t fix the systems of oppression that keep Black children in cycles of poverty. It’s a placebo of cultural acceptance where Black children are disproportionally targeted for systemic abuse being allowed to feel a more visceral and visible connection with a Disney Princess.

Whether Disney has a Gay, Trans, or Straight character, the material conditions of sexual minorities across the world are still unfortunate to say the least. Even in supposedly advanced nation there are legislatures currently unsure of the legal existence and humanity of those they don’t approve of.

The life of a marginalized person is not dependent on consuming the right movies, supporting the right brand, or listening to the right people’s opinions on the way a property should be made.

It makes writing about it maddening. How does one argue about the scientific logistics of a human-fish hybrid and not feel the slightest bit out of touch?

The Realism of a Human-Fish

Ariel, noted real character
Ariel, noted real character.

One area worth little attention is the supposed realism of the character of Ariel, who once again, is a mermaid, a fictional sea creature.

Many right wing commentators alledge that Ariel, the mermaid, can’t be darker skinned because it’s not scientifically possible. The merits of this argument are almost universally moot because authorial intent is not being used for any other reason than to limit options for casting, not because it would make the movie better, but because they don’t like the color of the character.

A common counter argument for this and other racially diverse casting choices is a theoretical white actor playing Black panther, or as the Daily Wire has rumored, a Malcolm X biopic starring a white actor.

Aside from erasing the history of white washing in film and equivocating some race bent characters with the legacy of white supremacy in media, it’s a self defeating premise.

Two things aren’t equal just because of you want them to be. Removing issue from their context and then attack a perceived imbalance only serves to favor the side that has historically been privileged.

Black Panther is the canonically Black, as in it is an inherent part of the character. A white man playing Black Panther would be White Wolf. A white man playing Malcolm X isn’t just inaccurate because Malcolm X actually existed, the story in and of itself wouldn’t work. This is not even addressing the purpose is just to cynically upset a demographic, not to make a work of art.

Walsh, to his credit, has said his point was just a joke, but that’s a classic defense. A quick “go to” whenever there is push back on a “joke”. Schrödinger’s humor, “it’s both my real opinion and joke whenever and wherever suitable and thus immune to criticism”.

So much of the conservative backlash is founded on bad faith, spite and actual bigotry it seems almost naïve to address it as such. People are often asked to take seriously bad faith actors who out of one side of their mouth complain about media erasure, but at the moment they receive any pushback claim not to care until they take a victory lap the moment their claims are addressed either positively or negatively.

To be completely open and fair, it is perfectly fine and acceptable to not like the Ghostbusters remake, the Shera reboot, and the upcoming Little Mermaid. No one is entitled to your money, your time, or any of your attention. BUT, it must be stated that this cycle of outrage, it’s not just fan outcry, it is cynically manipulated by parties portraying themselves as opposing sides. The lens of ideology allows for the spectacle to propagate itself ad infinitum.

How the cycle perpetuates itself

Summer of Nostalgia
Hollywood’s Summer of Nostalgia Jordan Awan

The cycle of cynically marketing to underrepresented demographics while fostering a culture of outrage to generate more engagement or drive more sales is not wholly without precedent. Hedging your bets by banking on nostalgic consumers but also using any outrage to also justify the creation of the product. This cycle of cynical marketing has been growing since 2016.

Outrage marketing has always existed in one form or another, but with the digital age and social media being able to turn random people into massive influencers, where enough followers allow for the grifters selling outrage to present themselves as actual vocal proponents of fanbases.

Whether it’s Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, whether it’s Last of Us 2, Fire Emblem Fates or Grand Theft Auto, the way that social media is set up, the ways that companies can manufacture discontent, the ways that people will be able to monetize the outrage of consumers, all of it speaks to a cycle of media marketing that will continue ad infinitum.

Nothing can be gained from the outrage for the audience, but nothing is actually meant to be gained. Consumers are cynically targeted and pandered to, and as a result, they stand up for their preferred intellectual property against anyone who would try to alter it. Woke or Based, the ultimate goal is money, so any attention is beneficial.

The Little Mermaid

Works Cited

  • Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Little Mermaid.” Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid, 13 Dec. 2007, http://hca.gilead.org.il/li_merma.html.
  • Bayne, Bijan C. “Opinion | How ‘Woke’ Became the Least Woke Word in U.S. English.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Feb. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/02/black-history-woke-appropriation-misuse/.
  • Cim. “When Brands Go Woke, Do They Go Broke?” CIM Exchange, 13 May 2021, https://www.cim.co.uk/content-hub/editorial/when-brands-go-woke-do-they-go-broke/.
  • Di Placido, Dani. “Disney’s ‘Little Mermaid’ Backlash Has Reached Insane Heights.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 15 Sept. 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/danidiplacido/2022/09/14/disneys-little-mermaid-backlash-has-reached-insane-heights/?sh=47e9c01d5592.
  • Edgecliff-Johnson, Andrew. “The War on ‘Woke Capitalism’.” Financial Times, The Financial Times Ltd., 28 May 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/e4a818e5-4039-46d9-abe0-b703f33d0f9b.
  • Ellis, Lindsay, director. Woke Disney. YouTube, YouTube, 30 Sept. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU1ffHa47YY&ab_channel=LindsayEllis. Accessed 11 Nov. 2022.
  • Harriot, Michael. “The True Hollywood Story of ‘Woke’ Mermaids.” TheGrio, 22 Sept. 2022, https://thegrio.com/2022/09/22/the-true-hollywood-story-of-woke-mermaids/.
  • Willingham, AJ. “Analysis: A Definitive Rebuttal to Every Racist ‘Little Mermaid’ Argument.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Sept. 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/09/17/entertainment/little-mermaid-racist-backlash-halle-bailey-disney-cec/index.html.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. As an Indian girl, I grew up watching so many films and never paid attention to the fact that a character was white, because there was barely any representation of coloured characters, however, when I saw representation of a dark skinned princess like Jasmine or the twins from Harry Potter, I was like yah they’re like me but that was about it. Honestly, they just gotta make more diverse characters and roles, for example, there has been so much light recently on South Asians with Never Have I ever, The Wedding Season, Bridgerton, and Miss Marvel. That’s what we need, not old characters recycled.

    • Sunni Rashad

      I think I also agree with this logic. Like I don’t actually care about Black Ariel. There are a wide array folk tales about mermaids from various cultures in Africa. Why not highlight them?

    • It’s better to make your own roles rather than it being recycled but i’m all for a new ariel

      • Christopher

        It’s not a new Ariel, though. It’s a human being playing a fictitious character. It’s usually the people who claim to not see colors who are up in arms about color represent Ted in media.

        Interestingly, these same good old folks never complain when an Asian or African role is played by a Caucasian. What do you think?

    • FRHNA

      I completely had the same feelings as a kid. Everyone was always white and I took no notice of it until they actually began to show representation on screen. Ms Marvel was the first time I felt like I could properly relate even if some of it wasn’t entirely the best representation. I have no opinion about the new little mermaid but I wish they would make new characters that we can actually relate to as you say and not just use already-known characters and simply change the colour of their skin because then you see no actual cultural representation. For example, using Ms Marvel again, you see what it’s like to be Muslim in America with the way they involve the mosque and things like that.

    • Madden I could not have said it better myself. I’m an Indian girl who knows how this feels.

  2. As a black person, we don’t see as much representation in media as white people do. ESPECIALLY in kids content. So when we do get something, it resonates. Just think about when black people who ain’t never seen a superhero movie in their life were lining up to see Black Panther. Hell, I work in a movie theater and there might be even more showing up for the sequel. It’s the same phenomenon.

    • Sunni Rashad

      I remember growing up, ” Piccolo is black”, “Knuckles is black”, any othered character was understood as black. When it came to black superheroes we had Blankman, Meteor Man, and Blade.

      The representation is on one hand a positive as far as assimilation goes, but I can’t help but want us to have represention by us and for us.

  3. lill-mary

    Ariel isn’t even an actual human being so making her white or a poc doesnt change anything about the characters story so I truly don’t understand those who care about her race. Changing a charcter like princess in the frog to someone other than black completely changed the cultural meaning behind the story.

  4. Sarcoprion

    Interesting article, and I don’t disagree with it. However, get a better editor. There are some egregious grammatical errors here that should never have made it to publication.

    • Sunni Rashad

      Noted. Thank you for the advice.

      • Adelaide Dupont

        A specific error which I had seen and noticed:

        “Under *auspicious* of being “fans” right wing provocateurs, racists, grifters, and all of their compatriots have a similar pattern of preserving the original, but not on the basis of the story. Disney for instance is quite hesitant to address historical oppressions, like for instance racism is something that almost universally gets ignored in their works.”

        Was it more like being “under cover” of being ‘fans’, Sunni?

        [or “suspicions” would have worked in that sentence if you were thinking of auspicion or auspicious?]

        [in other words these groups have us think they are fans or use fandom to appeal to people who might not have thought about it or might disagree with them to some degree].

        The “simplest” word is often the best unless you are looking for something specific in its effect [or to make we the reader feel something].

        Yes – racism does get ignored very often in Disney.

        [I don’t know that I would say “almost universally” – if we could it would be so much easier to condemn!]

        That for me has been more of a “qual” observation than a “quant” one.

        When you said “compatriots” – I might well have said “fellow travellers”.

        [“compeers” is a great word for those people/parasites]

  5. There is nothing wrong with a black princess, its just it doesn’t represent the original My little mermaid. They changed her race and other characters in the movie and changed the original storyline…just make NEW Disney movies with black princesses, dont change the originals!

    • She’s gonna blow this role out of the water she’s amazingly talented. 😊

    • Christopher

      It’s not a new Ariel, though. It’s a human being playing a fictitious character. It’s usually the people who claim to not see colors who are up in arms about color represent Ted in media.

      Interestingly, these same good old folks never complain when an Asian or African role is played by a Caucasian. What do you think?

      • Reasonable

        But what if they remade a black fictitious character. Like made morpheous white. That would be weird and have no reasoning but the left would be up in arms about white washing a black character and supporting a radical right ideology.

  6. I bet these racist cats don’t know that the Mermaid from Africa.

  7. What I don’t understand is, how do we know they aren’t telling a good story from a single trailer.

    • Sunni Rashad

      for the sake of the discourse, the quality of a work deemed “woke” is immaterial. She-Ra won awards, Steven Universe won awards, Black Panther won awards, quality didn’t stop the discourse.

      • Shame on you

        But those are the entertainment is an extremely liberal leaning society. As a political side that loves to pat itself on the back. Of course they would give “woke” material awards so they can justify them in conversation. And there’s extreme proof that most in the entertainment industry is left leaning.

        And many instance of conservatives of all colors and backgrounds having to hide their political biases and not of shame but of fear of being bullied or black balled based on their political opinions in an industry that leans so far one way. Also the sexualization of anything for children like She-Ra and Steven Universe is insane.

        Its not about representation. It’s about indoctrination and grooming. These shows look to normalize the insanity coming from the left and then gets praised by the left to be proof that the left is right.

        I mean this is a opinion peice. And you obviously are as left as they come. That if the world was flat which I wouldn’t be surprised if you thought that with the lefts openness to trying to deny reality and science. Someone would fall off by being on the left of you.

  8. I’m convinced making Ariel black is a move to avoid the scandal that happened where Disneyland workers have been seen interacting with the white kids but ignoring the black ones. You can even search it up.

  9. Instead of changing old white characters to make them more diverse. They need to just make new characters more diverse.

  10. What about the black spiderman?

    • Sunni Rashad

      What about him?

    • The difference with Miles Morales is that he’s actually his own character with his own backstory, his own personality, etc. The new Ariel is just a reskin of the old one.

      • Sunni Rashad

        Missing the point.

      • Exactly.

      • Ariella

        This is what im talking about, 🤦🏾‍♂️ people only know miles from the animated movie. miles in the comics and most other medias acts very similar to young peter. even in into the spiderverse he does, even though yes he does things that peter wouldn’t do. their personalities are very similar.

      • Miles morales was created to show marvel’s diversity and shi but his story was done very carefully and creators of him would plan it for yrs to make sure to do it right. So they did it for diversity and representation but they did it well with care which is acc interesting and attracting.

  11. As a black girl who loves Disney princesses I can honestly say I care more about a princess’s story than her skin tone and it’s always been like that. So when they came up with Chloe to play Ariel it was most likely because of how she sings and she just happens to be black.

  12. The director hand picked Halle. He asked her to audition after hearing her sing at the Grammys. He said she auditioned and no one after her was able to to do better.

    • Yes I think they cast her based on her voice first. It’s the most important aspect for that character and they can’t get away with pulling an Emma Watson and using a ton of autotune just because they cast someone who looks like the cartoon version OR totally removing the singing aspects of the movie like they have done in the past.

      • Really?

        Disney is a company who is very particular about who can be who in costume. They 100% would look at skin color before anything g else.

  13. Although I feel like they should make new Disney characters rather than changing old ones. Representation matters as a child. Princess and the frog came out 13 years ago, since then there hasn’t been another black Disney princess. Although I think it’s true that kids don’t care about race, it would still be nice to see someone from the same background as you on the big screen.

    • I totally agree but i was actually really disappointed about Princess and the Frog since she was the first black Disney princess but she had to be the struggle princess and she was a frog most of the film. I definitely feel like representation matters like you said but we need fresh and better examples than what Disney already gave.

  14. Stephanie M.

    One of the best topics from recently, and a good look at the nuances of the issue. Nice work!

  15. I think you’ve missed another important issue here. People are sick of remakes. Just make something new, drawing from modern experiences and expectations.

  16. Yes, you did “touch” on it, but I think it is a major point for most people. A vocal and often violent minority lean hard into their issues with “woke” media, but most people are tired of three decades of remaking movies instead of coming up with something new.

  17. It’s nothing woke about black little mermaid. People need to wake up.

  18. Everyone is so selfish, literally looking at the entire thing in “black” and “white” as though those are the only two races in existence.

    • Sunni Rashad

      Anti-Blackness is a global thing so, I don’t know what you expect. Especially from the epicenter of a lot of the racial animus as far as african diaspora and white people are concerned.

  19. Disney should just make a new black princess or character but i also think them making ariel black isn’t a big issue bc there’s no cultural significance behind being a mermaid. like if tiana was white that’d be a problem bc her character revolves around her being a black woman in the 1920’s. and it’d be the same thing if they made merida black or smth because her character revolves around her being scottish. but yea i dont think there’s harm in making ariel black but i do think disney could’ve just created a new character.

  20. It is kinda sad these incels are slowly turning into these reverse oppression brainwashed people. All of their arguments are all skewed from their personal experiences from 20 years ago, and not even considering that others have different feelings than them.

  21. As a Chinese, in my opinion, the appearance of this film is undoubtedly a manifestation of the polarization of American society. Isn’t it just another form of racism to force people into areas where they shouldn’t talk about racism in order to eliminate racism against Africans? Is it too difficult not to dilute the “african” identity in order to integrate black people into the family of American society?

    • Sunni Rashad

      Appearance in what sense?

      Force people into areas where they shouldn’t talk about racism? Who is doing this?

      Is it too difficult not to dilute the African identity in order to integrate Black people into the family of American society?

      Could you elaborate on your meaning?

  22. This peoples need to understand that this is a fairy tale!

  23. Caucasian princesses have been more represented in the “princess culture.”

    • It’s a slippery slop simple make your own princess character.

    • I think no character should be changed; ez work, make a new character like what they did with remaking the Brothers Grimm’s The Frog Prince, Tiana and Naveen are completely different from the characters in that story, even the plot is different.

  24. Classifying a FICTIONAL character under one race is wild. I can understand Mulan or Aladdin because those are culturally specific but saying a “Mermaid” is just white is crazy.

  25. So what happens when they make a live action Simpson Movie? (this is a joke)

  26. People are so uneducated on this topic because the fact that Ariel is black literally changes nothing on the story line.. having a problem with her being black just proves peoples racism bc if they changed tiana for example to be white would literally be a problem because her being black literally affects the whole story line.. same with Mulan..

  27. The ease with which manufactured outrage is legitimised and disseminated within media structures is quite interesting, and the conversations surrounding the Little Mermaid remake is a definite example of this phenomena.

  28. It’s a literal mermaid. They’re making a big deal out of a fictional mermaid character.

  29. It is important to have representation in the media. There are so many races, cultures, and types of people in the world and for so long it was mainly just one group being showcased and represented in media consistently. It’s not like there’s no existence of people of color in different TV shows and films, but they are often reduced to stereotypes or playing supporting roles.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with demanding more when it comes to representation, especially when it’s so lacking. White people are represented often and there is a wide range in the types of characters they get to represent. There are so many genres and character roles that you don’t see POC in and that’s because society/the world has grouped them into being one thing, while white people can be anything. I think that the push for more media representation has had its pros and drawbacks, the pros are that we are getting more range in POC character portrayals, the drawbacks are that sometimes the diversity or representation is poorly executed, and you can tell that something was written or added in to be “inclusive” whether than it feeling natural and a part of the content.

  30. Here’s how I see it: I never watched cartoons as a kid and wished that already existing character was Black. Like I never watched Pokemon and wished Ash was Black. I think it’s weird that parents are filming their kids reacting that way because I doubt the kids ever considered the colors of these characters too.

    But I will say having representation in pop culture means a lot. For example I grew up in the 90s and didn’t know Black people were into skateboarding because I never saw any Black people skating until I played Tony Hawk. So it does help to see representation.

  31. valeriiege

    Representation, of course, is essential. It should increase. And I believe most people will support that. What bothers me is when representation becomes biased. As you said in your article, is a bit like a capitalist thing. I have no problem with the black mermaid. Why should I? I was happy when I saw all those kids happy seeing a black mermaid. But is it necessary? Is the representation of POC mean turning white characters into Black? Is that how we represent POC? I think this is not the way. It could be better.

    I believe we need new stories, new characters, or new unadapted characters. But when someone says “create new,” it resonates like an insult. Why? Jorden Peele represents POC culture with new stories. And he does that from his heart, not in a capitalist way. I am a fan of Black Panther, especially Dora Milaje. The blade was excellent. Blindspotting was my top movie in 2018 and probably one of the best movies I have ever watched. But turning Archilles to Black in Truva was wrong. I don’t think this is a good representation.

    As a potential movie director, my first feature will be the story of a black family. I don’t need adaptation or color change. I want to add something. Creating new characters. I am ready to support every culture and its representation in pop culture. But we need to realize that there are other ways besides turning characters. We should add. And we should do that from our hearts. Because, what I believe, casting a black person “just because of representation” is like an insult. It is like “you should exist.” And I can’t imagine the people who play those roles. The reason you are there is because of representation reasons. Not because they really want you. Just because you should exist.

    I hope one day I can do more for the culture and hope people wriggle from this attitude and do what they really want.

  32. It’s not like they were set on making Ariel black, the auditions were held and she made the best impression and therefore got the part. She earned it fair and square.

  33. veronica

    I don’t think they intentionally changed her race. I think they just casted someone they felt had talent to perform the songs and act well.

    • The director said that when she auditioned no one came close to her ability to act and sing. She didn’t get the role because she’s black but because she was the best auditioner. Stop looking at her race and focus on how she plays Ariel, and her voice in the trailer was phenomenal. When a black women has an success in life, people love to say it was bc they’re black and not bc abilities and their hardwork. If she was the best auditioner and happened to be black, oh well then Ariel is black.

  34. mathian

    Many people make the point of “well what if we changed an originally black character to be white,” and even though I do see the point, those two scenarios cannot be compared because majority of the time, disney creates minority princesses and storylines based literally off of their race and cultural background.(ex. princess and the frog is based around an actual black woman who owned a restaurant in new orleans) So it wouldn’t make logical sense to cast a white actress to play a black, indian, or polynesian character because their storyline is almost entirely about their culture and ethnicity. But when it comes to white princesses, their storyline has almost nothing to do with their race, so it leaves a space for anyone to play that character.

  35. Rachel Coleman

    Some kids might not care what the color of the character is but it does mean something to them. They can identify with the character and makes them feel as though they can do it too. It is inspiring for black kids. It promotes inclusion and diversity and that’s something we need in this world.

  36. I grew up as a mixed kid in a black family with black cousins. They watched the trailer and they were excited, because they saw the original movie. I asked how they feel about the race of the character. They didn’t even realize she was black until they rewatched the trailer.

  37. mr miau

    I’m Armenian. I rarely see Armenians or Armenian culture properly portrayed in film or television.

    When people say representation matters, they usually don’t truly mean everyone. They often subconsciously mean the more common American racial minorities. The world is more vast, and its people are far more varied, but the representation of race is a tunnel vision: Black or African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish, etc.

    When immigrating to the U.S., Armenians have to arguably work twice as hard as our white counterparts in the workforce – yet our culture has become synonymous with the extravagant Kardashian image in the eyes of non-Armenians. Don’t get me wrong, the Kardashians have done a lot to fight for Armenian rights, but we are so much more diverse than one family. I grew up without seeing an Armenian main character – protagonist or antagonist – on screen. Armenians are almost nowhere to be seen on modern visual mediums like film and TV.

    Sometimes, if we get lucky, we’re reduced to either background gangsters or misanthropes with mental illness as characters. For instance, in the opening Kick Ass scene in which Matthew Vaughn tricks the audience into thinking “some Armenian guy with a history of mental health problems” is the main character, as the white protagonist introduces himself and disparages the Armenian character, or the Armenian criminal subplot in Weeds, which portrays us as one-dimensional, psychotic mobsters.

    If you can believe it, I’m 14.
    Kids feel a lack of representation.

  38. Lawrence

    There are two scenarios either they casted her for the sake of diversity or they did a blind casting. We’ll see when the movie comes out how good her acting is that will determine which is which.

  39. The only time I ever thought about a characters skin was when I started wanting to cosplay. I found it hard to be confident in dressing up, because I thought “my cosplay won’t look good, if I don’t look exactly like the character.”

  40. The issue with live action remakes are the lack of emotion and unnecessary changes! Might as well just watch the original classics.

  41. Disney on self-destruction mode. Which is a good thing.

  42. There is a lot of hatred for movie we haven’t seen yet 😕

  43. I don’t think kids care about the races of characters they see in shows, however I do think that it subconsciously wires girls to think that Caucasian girls are representative of beauty, as this is the only race that they are being shown portrayed as “princesses”. Young girls should look up to multinational and multiracial characters. What Disney should do is make more characters of all different shapes and colours, and not change existing ones. Having a diversity in the demographics of characters eliminates racial dominance and implies that beauty is irrespective of skin colour.

  44. Joseph Cernik

    A good, well written essay. I continue to struggle with this term Woke. At times I think I know what it is and what it addresses and then I don’t. But then that’s normal if the word, the term, can be applied in a politically manipulated way. It then becomes interesting to see how the boundaries of what it addresses continue change, to create outrage about, basically, anything that seems to not fit a previous accepted image. I loved The Little Mermaid years old watching it many times with one of my daughters. I plan on seeing the new version with her and neither of us will be seeing it with an eye toward getting judgmental about Woke anything, just enjoying the show.

  45. Well written

  46. It’s always been interesting to me to see how people’s true colors come out when, suddenly, a marginalized individual is given space to thrive.

  47. You can’t please everyone and enjoy what you are given. And you are intelligent enough (or not) to filter out appropriate or inappropriate contents. Sounds conformist? Does Black or Asian Annie make blacks or Asians feel better? I bet most blacks and Asians find it most uncreative and dumb, not empowering. Stanford just released alternative words for “stupid” – uncool or boring. So old people are usually boring and sometimes uncool therefore stupid?

    • Sunni Rashad

      Most people probably don’t care.

      Conformity is inevitable if you live in a society.

      Idk, some old people are stupid but that can be/be read as ableist.
      Some are uncool.
      Some are boring.

      Using language that doesn’t demean people for things outside of their control is admirable, if a bit challenging at times. People use to say the r-slur all the time that changed, people used to use “autism” as a substitute. That changed.

      Language changes.

  48. I’m a white woman and funny enough I grew up watching Disney’s now canceled and never talked about Song of the South. It’s a strange place to be a consumer when you have to consider what you are actually consuming… I mean is a film message too woke or is it lagging behind or is it just woke because being woke is in right now. As a Filmmaker myself I am always worried my films will be attacked by the woke generation for now bing woke enough.

    • Sunni Rashad

      Consumers should be aware of what they are consuming.

      Companies shouldn’t put out hateful content.

      The “woke” generation is just an audience. They may not be yours. But unless you’re doing something actually harmful it should be fine.

  49. Black Adam is a much better example of wokeness in its Marvel Shazam mythology than Disney’s colonialist two dimensional European Discovery paradigm taken directly from Hans Christian Anderson’s Apartheid view of mermaids as racially inferior to civilized human beings. Walt Disney was a capitalist Eisenhower Republican similar to President Trump and former New York Mayor Rudolf Guliani. Stan Lee represents a better attempt to be a genuine spokesperson and Dwayne Johnson’s Marvel characterization is a sincere attempt to capture the 1960’s Black Panther rejection of the Black Sambo Justice League perspective on African American wokism. The wall segregationalist attitude seen in the current state governments of Texas and Florida, especially regarding the conservative elementary school “Bathroom Bills” is conservative Republican monolithic sexual bigotry seen at Christmas time in Manhattan in 1952.

  50. Denise Zubizarreta

    Wonderful breakdown! There’s so much to be said about how Disney canon has changed the way we interpret and share these stories. That’s an article all on its own.

  51. There is definitely something to be said about how formative Disney movies can be for children’s development. Media productions are indeed part of our history, and they act like a mirror to our society.

    It makes me think about this essay I wrote for school last year, where I highlighted how Snow White and The Seven Dwarves is framed by the patriarchal and heteronormative world in which it exists. Targeted at children, the movie aims to reinforce traditional gender norms; that is, the woman as mother, and the man as worker.

    Nowadays, Disney aims to influence in the other direction. We can clearly discern an attempt to empower visible and invisible minorities, include racial as well as sexual diversity, create plotlines that are not totally centered around romantic relationships, and moral lessons that are less problematic (or at least more nuanced) than what we can get out of their earliest works.

  52. This is so refreshing to see. Often I see websites and news platforms throwing around “woke” and sharing very surface levels ideas (harmful ideas) about diversity in film.

    It is so important for children to recognize themselves in the art they consume. Disney has a long way to go but they are definitely making moves in the correct direction.

    Great writing.

  53. Beatrix Kondo

    Mermaids do not even exist, right? How come she could not be black?

    Great article, diversity and representation matter, and matter a lot!

  54. The outcry over a black Ariel shows an even worse problem for movies – that a studio, producers, and writers are listening to social media. Or, that they have to. Instead of creating a unique story with a core theme, and truly updating it to something contemporary, they release a trailer to see what happens if they create a black mermaid protagonist. The social media outcry happens, and they consider what to do next. This is so subpar to a story development process pre-social media or outside-of-social media. The story should be what the creators want it to be. Disney’s has made its many different types of princesses and lead characters to be more independent. Even if not perfect, this is a vast improvement over characters so dependent they could do nothing without a fairy godmother and a benevolent prince to validate their actions. But now the people making TV shows and movies are put in positions where they must listen to social media. Yet, social media is full of bots and haters, and now is AI. So who is really influencing movies? AI? This is a great article about the pros and cons of the updated Little Mermaid. The author touched on the bigger system and I wish they had expanded this. Why does a movie created by humans have to listen to anonymous, non-involved, potentially non-human social media yappers? It has removed a lot of creativity from media fields.

  55. The Little Mermaid is scheduled to be released theatrically in the United States on May 26, 2023, in RealD 3D, IMAX, Dolby Cinema and 4DX formats, as well as in conventional theaters.

  56. I personally am disappointed that Disney is choosing to remake their classic films, but the problems do not lie with the films starring Actors of color. I hate that this is an argument because I think some of the best of Disney’s more recent films exemplify casting people of color, Moana and Encanto are two of the best animated films Disney has made and that is EXACTLY because of the cultures they represent.

    • Disneygrooms

      Idk if I agree that it’s only because of their culture. But I agree both those movies are really good. But I also can’t see any reason for a drastic change to so many elements in the little mermaid except to be woke. It’s similar to some other movies like turning red. Which has undertones of 3rd wave feminist movement. As well as its cool to be defiant to your parent. Pro abortion snuck in with my panda my choice. Or the extreme sexual frustration and expression thay is portrayed in the movie. Its not because half of America hates black people as the other half say. It’s these subtle changes that are meant to indoctrinate kids to subscribe internally these ideologies that are way to complex for them and have so much nuance. And many of these are what he’d by very young kids.

      The issue is the direction of the movies to hide a specific ideologies that are just enough to not force a reaction or be subtle.

  57. The argument that it is scientifically improbable for a mermaid to have dark skin is pretty counterproductive as I’m sure Disney would agree that the intent of The Little Mermaid was not to make a realistic representation scientifically. With the blatant white washing done to so many other films, it is relieving to see diversified representation in such a big film, even if it is a marketing ploy on Disney’s part.

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