Casting of Ariel in ‘The Little Mermaid’ marks milestone in diversifying Disney princesses


Every kid’s childhood is filled with the impractical, but eager desire to become a Disney princess someday. Who wouldn’t want that? Disney princesses inspire young girls that they too, can overcome encounters against wicked villains after befriending talking animals and learn how to dramatically cry against the closest object. More importantly, they teach children to be brave when they’re timid – to have faith and to be kind towards all living creatures. 

When looking at the Disney princesses that people have grown up with and developed a fondness for, it is quite noticeable that the majority of the princesses are caucasian, such as the classic Cinderella, Belle and Aurora. This is mainly due to the fact that the bulk of Disney’s stories are based on European folklore. 

Since the release of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937, Disney princesses continued to be white until “Aladdin” came out in 1992. The story of “Aladdin” comes from a folk tale with Middle Eastern origins. 

Subsequently, many Disney princesses of color have followed, such as “Pocahontas,” “Mulan,” Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog” and “Moana.”

After the establishment of all of these characters, Disney then began to produce live-action remakes of their classic animated princess films starting in 2010 with “Alice in Wonderland.” To match the originals, Disney has cast actresses to match the ethnicity of each princess, until “The Little Mermaid.”

Director Rob Marshall has decided to produce a remake of the iconic 1989 Disney film “The Little Mermaid.” R&B singer and actress Halle Bailey has been cast as Ariel, prompting much controversy of Disney’s casting of an African American actress for the traditional white princess. 

After Disney’s announcement on Twitter on July 3, Twitter experienced an influx of #NotMyAriel tweets from users expressing their discontent with the casting choice.

“WE want to see an ACTUAL Ariel, a girl who looks like the many that Disney themselves casts in their very own DISNEYLANDS. A girl who looks like she came right out of the animation, JUSTICE FOR ARIEL. #NOTMYARIEL,” tweeted @NOTMYARIEL8. 

At the 2019 Florida Supercon convention, Jodi Benson, the original voice of Ariel in the 1989 animated film, justified against the casting backlash that Bailey has been receiving. 

Benson 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.” 

Benson describes the ideal mindset that all people should adopt and teach their children in order to become more tolerant. One’s physical appearance should not determine how our society views them. Despite the segregation that our country once imposed against people of color, America needs to develop a tolerance for all kinds of people. Halle Bailey’s true talent for singing and acting deserves to be recognized, and the fact that her skin tone doesn’t match the original Ariel’s shouldn’t detract from her talents.

Halle Bailey should be praised for bravely accepting the role as Ariel considering that Marshall and she knew it would evoke many mixed feelings, particularly from people not wanting change. 

The casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” marks a milestone for Disney as it will hopefully inspire more Disney princess remakes to be different from their original films. Changes in these films only reflect how our society has progressed ever since the first Disney princess film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” in 1937. Since then, our society has become more open in accepting various ethnicities, with live action films such as “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Black Panther.”

Disney should produce more princesses of color to inspire and give hope to a wider range of young girls. Mulan and Jasmine should not be the only Disney princesses to represent Eurasia or Tiana as the only African American. Our beloved Disney princesses need to be more ethnically diverse, and hopefully, Halle Bailey’s casting will inspire a transition for a more diverse Disney princess roster. 

The casting also brings light to the fact that the Disney princess lineup could use some diversification. Overall, Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel has sparked many mixed emotions, but it is crucial that our society flourishes to become more accepting of others. 

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