Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid' Film Shows Skin Color Doesn't Matter Under the Sea

The Gen Z retelling of the studio's classic is due in 2023.
by Reportr Team   |  Sep 18, 2022
Image: twitter/disneystudios
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Disney has released the trailer of the live action version of the film "The Little Mermaid" and audiences for the first time saw the heroine Ariel as a black woman, igniting conversations online on representation in film.

"The Little Mermaid", released in 1989, was Disney's breakthrough film for millennials, creating memorable characters and soundtracks with happy endings that were sometimes unfaithful to the original fairy tale.

Without the success of re-haired Ariel, Flounder and Sebastian and the songs "Part of Your World" and "Kiss the Girl", subsequent films might not have found mainstream success -- including "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King".

On Sunday, "Ariel" was trending on Twitter and the upcoming film's star, actress Halle Bailey, was the most-searched on Google.

Bailey's Ariel is the first lead of a Disney animated film to be cast as a person of color in the film adaptation. The story, written by Hans Christian Andersen, is set in Europe and pop culture has always seen the main mermaid character as white.

In 2017, Disney rebooted "Beauty and the Beast" and cast "Harry Potter" star Emma Watson as Belle that retained just enough sparkle from her yellow ballgown to stand out against a darker backdrop, much like the live-action "Cinderella" in 2015.

Except when the story calls for the lead to be of a specific ethnicity, like "Pocahontas" and "Legend of Mulan", Disney always defaulted to a white lead character, and with blonde hair like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.


In 1997, Brandy, then the queen of pop R&B, starred in a non-Disney film version of "Cinderella" that had mostly people of color in lead roles. The late Whitney Houston played her fairy godmother and Filipino-American Paolo Montalban was prince charming.

Gen Z's "Little Mermaid" played by Bailey will be shown in theaters in 2023, a few months after the sequel to "Black Panther", "Wakanda Forever", which broke ground for black actors at Marvel studios.

It will also come on the heels of Netflix's Bridgerton, which made a sex symbol out of Rege Jean-Page, who played a black duke in Regency era Britain when audiences expect a person of such high stature to be white.

Lizzo, among the most popular black R&B singers of this genertion, campaigned for the role of Ursula the sea witch with octopus tentacles but was beaten by rubenesque comedienne Melissa McCarthy.

While Disney has turned its back on the white heroine for its fairy tales, it has yet to fully embrace the sad endings of the original literature.

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In the 1989 film, Ariel and Eric lived happily ever after after they defeated Ursula in a whirlpool climax that almost saw King Triton live the rest of his life as a bearded seaweed.

In the original text, the mermaid, who traded her voice for human legs, refused to stab the love of her life in the chest to regain her fins and she turns into sea foam.

This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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