On September 10th, Disney Studios finally launched the official teaser trailer of the remake of The Little Mermaid which will be played in theaters starting May 6th 2023. Since then, even three years prior, the internet has been blabbering around the topic of Disney’s choice of the actress and singer who plays Ariel for the upcoming live-action movie, Halle Bailey. This, obviously, has been reaping the pros and cons among people on the internet.
A compilation video of the reactions of young black girls seeing a black woman as the Ariel cast for the first time has gone viral and flattered many hearts. All of them had huge smiles on their faces, one of them even said, “She’s just like me!” and it melted the hearts of people. It is heartwarming that they see Halle as their representation, proof that breaking through the glass-ceiling is possible for them as black girls.
However, the other side of people on Twitter are raising the #NotMyAriel hashtag up to the surface again (the first time had occurred in 2019) to express their dissatisfaction with Halle, a black woman, as the choice for the Ariel role. Some tweets complained on how Disney “ruined” their childhood dream as little girls that grew up with the image of a red head, light-skinned Ariel with blue eyes.
What is Actually Being “Ruined”?
While they complained about their childhood dream being ruined, let’s have a look at what is actually being “ruined”. As human beings with recreational needs, even since we were kids, we have been exposed to the things that media offers: movies and TV shows. The media has created our perspective and imagination of things, such as beauty standard and physical appearance. The media has been dictating what is “beautiful” and what is “disappointing”. Thus, the truth is, the one being “ruined” is the media’s construction of the image that we have consumed ever since.
Scientifically speaking, there is a whole theory trying to explain this. According to Communication Theory, the cultivation theory, introduced by George Gerbner in the 1960s, mainly talks about how the television and/or media is affecting and influencing the people who watch television frequently. The influence affects how they perceive and see the world. Based on this theory, the perception of beauty among young girls was also shaped by the media. It affected them to such an extent that their subconscious mind still records the image, standard, and perception even after they grew into adults.
The Lack of Minority Representation in Disney Movies
Disney, through media and television, had been showcasing how they are white-biased through the characters. Moreover, they had also been showing the usage of racial stereotypes. As specified by Caila L. Cordwell (2016) in her thesis, seven of the eleven official Disney princesses are white. In regard to that fact, Disney had also depicted black, strong, and dominating characters as villains (e.g., Lady Tremaine).
An article by Dorothy Hurley (2005) explained how white and brightness are used constantly to illustrate purity and kindness (protagonists), while black and darkness illustrate evil and malicious characters (antagonists). Meanwhile, in the original The Little Mermaid, Hurley noted how Ursula (the sea witch and the villain), has “black nuances of speech and movement”.
For the people who grew up with Disney from a very young age, abundance of whiteness and negative portrayal of the black community had been some of the things they consistently consumed. Therefore, the reaction we can easily spot on the internet today, especially from white people, is seen as expected through the cultivation theory. On the other hand, the heartwarming reactions of the black people aforementioned indicate that Disney had made the people feel represented.
In contrast, as it is known, media as part of the culture industry is “designed” to use the masses or audiences as objects, not necessarily as kings—just like what the culture industry usually says and promotes. With the rise of the amount of discussions on racism, Disney seemed to also comply with the nature of media.
With that being said, it is reasonable for some critics on the internet to believe that Disney chose Halle as Ariel merely to gain broader attention and bigger audience, such as the minorities and people who identify as social justice warriors on the internet. Moreover, they also assume that the choice of Disney is meant to trigger the opposing group into making noise, thus drawing people to watch the trailer and the upcoming movie as well. With its pros and cons on Disney’s choice, it is best for us to be discerning as audiences, to not overreact towards something that is supposed to be consumed in an entertaining way.
Penulis: Chelsea Anastasia
Reporter: Chelsea Anastasia
Editor: Fareez Eldacca
Foto: YouTube, TikTok
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