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More than Representation: The Little Mermaid

Posted by Sara Cooper | May 30, 2023 | 0 Comments

For the past half year, the announcement of a live action The Little Mermaid after 30 years of the animated version, brought on collective excitement for all Disney fans and children alike. Its bigger importance created even more positive discourse due to its on-screen representation of a Black actress (Halle Bailey) playing Ariel. Families from various backgrounds do not only see this as an incredible shift in Hollywood of seeing characters that their kids can relate to but as higher possibilities for younger generations having their dreams turn into an actual reality.

Growing up, I enjoyed watching Disney movies on repeat where my parents would have to set a limit on my television time. Yes, it was that extreme. Everything from Lilo and Stitch to The Princess and the Frog was never ranked because I would say how they were all my favorites as one. It brought my imagination and curiosity of the world to life as well as my friends'; our childhoods were honestly built by Disney, we still visit Disneyland at least once a year. Looking back however, my friends and I wanted to see more diverse representation among the Disney princesses, including a princess with a Latino background, one as mine as a Mexican American woman. Many of us felt like we were being left out on our upbringings and the values we withhold from our cultures. It was a critique that was always on my mind.

Disney has made small developments that have been highly recognized in the past decade for their advanced animation and stories centering around mental health, but the significance of cultural identity is still a waiting matter for their audience. Some might make the argument that focusing on who the actors are associated with and how they identify with would “make the story weaker,” but my response would be, “Has there been anything else seen other than what you are conditioned with to recognize?” 

Despite folks who have given backlash for the film, I am very delighted to see kids and their parents create moments together that will include an experience that is not monolithic to one group. There shouldn't have to be a dilemma to expand experiences and ideas that could already be on the big screen today:

“Multicultural stories have the power to open doors, build bridges, and ultimately connect people together,” says Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, an associate professor from the University of Michigan.

The opportunities to have space inside and out of the entertainment industry for people of color is narrow and unpredictable, noting the cruciality of expressing support for the art that is being created by actors and other professionals. 

“It was an inspiring and beautiful thing to hear the words of their encouragement, telling me, ‘You don't understand what this is doing for us, for our community, for all the little Black and Brown girls who are going to see themselves in you,” Halle Bailey says.

This anticipated movie of the summer is one I have been looking forward to since the release of the trailer, a powerful one that brought me hope and comfort. I'm probably going to watch The Little Mermaid with some friends and bring up the nostalgia of watching Disney as kids. I am confident that Halle Bailey played the role of Ariel with honor and respect that will stand out exponentially for its importance.

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