The world is under lockdown due to COVID-19. With so many people in self-isolation and production of the live-action The Little Mermaid temporarily suspended, it seems the "#notmyariel" debate is picking up intensity again. At this stage it seems quite obvious that many, if not most fans globally, do not agree with the direction Rob Marshall is taking the film in. What's worse, the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel has caused massive social fallout, including the vicious online and in-person bullying of 1989 Ariel loyalists and their families by Bailey supporters and so-called "social justice" advocates. Freedom of speech and thought has come under fire on the various social media platforms, including Instagram, where the hashtag "#notmyariel" has recently been muted. Many people who disagree with the casting are afraid to voice their disapproval out of fear of being labelled "racist" and harassed like some of the more vocal objectors have been. Ironically, there have been many examples of Bailey supporters using racist attacks against their opponents in attempt to silence their dissent. Additionally, the casting has robbed talented Ariel lookalikes of a precious opportunity to portray a beloved icon in a time we are witnessing more and more white, redheaded characters race-swapped into non-existence. Ariel is merely another character who has fallen victim to this trend, and Peter Pan is reportedly the next.
Many fans of the original Ariel feel betrayed by the live-action version on numerous levels. If this casting was really supposed to be good for representation, it fails to do so considering African Americans are the most represented racial group in Hollywood after whites. People of Greek or Italian descent don't come close, yet an official Disney trivia video stated TLM '89 was based in the Mediterranean, and Ariel's family is based on members of the ancient Greek pantheon. Whether you choose to argue the film should be set in Denmark, Western Europe or the Mediterranean, this casting makes very little sense. Talking sea creatures aside, a good fantasy is still as realistic as possible given the period and location in which it takes place. Furthermore, why was our beloved seagull, Scuttle, deemed to be in need to a gender reassignment? What was wrong with the loveable, goofy male version of Scuttle? Why have Rob Marshall and Lin Manuel Miranda decided Ariel and Scuttle don't deserve to be portrayed in a manner consistent with the original? Why does Ariel deserve a less consistent portrayal than the other Disney princesses have received so far? People with red hair account for less than 2% of the global population, meaning their targeted marginalization in the entertainment industry is nothing less than crime against an actual minority group which needs to finally be acknowledged as such. Red hair and blue eyes is said to be the rarest combination of physical traits (rd.com). Do the people who possess this combination not deserve to hold on to arguably their most famous character? Halle Bailey cannot physically represent the same group of people Ariel does even with contact lenses and fake red hair as her overall appearance is too dissimilar. There is nothing racist in pointing that out. Whether or not all white redheads feel personally offended by this casting is beside the point. The point is some definitely do feel offended, while other people are just fed up with the obvious "gingercide", race-swapping, and general "woke" agenda being pushed in these Disney remakes and entertainment in general. We're tired of it, Disney. If you really want our money and to return back to your "glory days" of the 80's and 90's, be more creative, make original stories to fill the diversity gaps, and respect the wishes of fans who call for consistency (rather than mock them via channels like "FreeForm"). All the celebrity endorsements in the world are not going to make your recent statements and actions acceptable to us.
Jodi Benson in her defense of the casting said: “The most important thing is to tell the story. And we have, as a family, we have raised our children, and for ourselves, that we don’t see anything that’s different on the outside. I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart and their spirit is what really counts. And the outside package -- 'cause let's face it, I'm really, really old -- and so when I'm singing 'Part of Your World,' if you were to judge me on the way I look on the outside, it might change the way you interpret the song. But if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel. We need to be storytellers, and no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever colour, we really need to tell the story” (etonline.com). As much as we appreciate Jodi's priceless contribution to the character of Ariel, her defense of the casting does not exactly hold up against critical analysis. It is true that anyone can be a storyteller, but not everyone can fool audiences into believing they are actually seeing an animated character come to life as a real person. In order to do that, the person portraying the character actually needs to physically resemble the character. We should be teaching our children to value everyone for who they are, including their appearance. We shouldn't be teaching them to get their representation from the misrepresentation of already iconic or established characters. We can teach our kids not to discriminate against people based on their race or appearance, but we cannot teach our kids to be blind and pretend that physical or racial differences do not exist. Children are generally not blind, and we shouldn't be treating them as such. Ariel has looked exactly the same for the last 30 years. Two-year-olds can recognize her from the way she's always been portrayed in various animations and countless articles of merchandise. Why throw that solid image out the window now? Audiences will not be watching this film with their eyes closed, and they shouldn't have to in order to feel like they are experiencing the original Ariel being brought to life in every respect.
Regarding Christopher Daniel Barnes' comment, 'If somebody thinks that skin color is an essential element to Ariel, then they don't understand the power of myth and what the story's really about” (metro.co.uk), we can again say Ariel is more than just a myth, she's a famous character we have all grown to know and love, and her iconic image is part of her character. Dismantling Ariel's image destroys part of her magic and the make-believe element that so many fans, especially the younger ones, deeply appreciate and enjoy. It has also been argued TLM's story is all about "transformation", so everyone should be contented about Ariel being transformed into a black girl. That doesn't make much sense either, because the story isn't about transformation for transformation's sake. It's about putting everything on the line to follow your heart. Ariel's appearance doesn't need to be changed in any way for her to do that more effectively.
Finally, Rob Marshall reportedly stated he has always been interested in blind castings and that Halle Bailey possessed all the necessary qualities of Ariel in his eyes. The issue is Rob isn't just making a movie for himself. He was supposed to be making it for the countless fans of all ages who have been waiting many years for this live-action film to faithfully represent the original film in all its visual splendor. The fact that Rob Marshall evidently takes Ariel's appearance for granted can scarcely be seen as less than an insult to Ariel's original artists and fans.
Disney needs to come to the realization that this casting has probably cost them a considerable amount of money in box office and merchandise sales, because based on various (prematurely terminated) petitions and polls, it is abundantly clear that thousands upon thousands of people are not satisfied with it. These unhappy fans are probably not going to spend money to see the movie, nor will they pay for their families to see it. On top of that, some lifelong Disney fans are so hurt by this conflict that they are walking away from the brand completely. So all of that lost revenue needs to be made up for by people who are planning to see the film purely to support an African American actress. Will those people be enough to make up the loss? Maybe, but it's doubtful if China's reported response to the casting is anything to go by (60,000 against vs 5000 okay with the casting) (sixthtone.com). Let us not be fooled into believing every black person is happy with this casting choice either, as many have clearly indicated they see it as a cheap gesture to pander to the "black dollar". It certainly falls short of creating a wholly original character to portray the culture accurately.
However, as production of the film has already commenced, we politely (and respectfully) request the rights from Disney to create a fan-made, at least partially crowd-funded rendition of our own. Disney could cash in twice over on the same story by allowing fans to create a faithful live-action TLM, minus the tokenized casting and other "modern" revisions. Disney decision-makers have severely underestimated how in love with the original masterpiece many fans actually are. Is our money something Disney stakeholders are no longer interested in? Due to the coronavirus pandemic, even Disney itself has reportedly fallen on hard financial times (nytimes.com). Considering that, is it really the best idea for them to continue ignoring their fans on this? Please note, any fan-directed version of TLM would not negatively impact the financial success of the current production, as it obviously would not be ready for release at the same time.
Please, Mr. Iger, don't let all the talented Ariel lookalikes in the world go to waste and miss this opportunity to faithfully portray a timeless icon - a character who once before rescued Disney from financial ruin in the 1980's. Allow us the rights to produce a fan-made version of the film. We could even throw in something of a charity project for children and the benefit of marine life. We'll call it the "Wish Upon a Starfish Foundation"! How can you say no to something that benefits kids and the environment? We are fully aware that this request is a long shot, but given that production on basically everything is halted for the time being, it seems only natural that you would have more time to consider the merits of it. So it's now or never, so to speak.
Please come to the table, Mr. Iger. Negotiate with your fans and hopefully we can turn this whole regrettable, ugly saga into something that unites, rather than divides The Little Mermaid fans.
Growing up as Disney fans we have been taught to believe that if we can dream it, we can achieve it. Please, Mr. Iger, let our dream come true.
Yours sincerely, all the undersigned:
Classic Ariel Fans (email@example.com)
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