Opinion | People of color need acknowledgment and representation in Disney films

Disney’s new adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” brings waves of admiration and excitement throughout Black and Brown communities.


Dan MacMedan-USA TODAY

Mar 27, 2022; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Halle Bailey arrives at the 94th Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre.

Naomi Rivera Morales

Disney released a teaser trailer for the live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” on Sept. 9.” This new adaptation of Disney’s 1989 film stars Halle Bailey as Ariel.

Many people are upset Disney cast a person of color in the film. However, as a person of color myself, I find this inclusion fulfilling and encouraging for Black and Brown communities.

This first trailer showcases Ariel swimming through the ocean with a long, green tail and flowing, red dreadlocks. Soon after, she begins to sing “Part of Your World.”

Ever since Disney released this trailer, there has been backlash against Halle Bailey’s role in “The Little Mermaid.” Many are upset with Disney’s casting because Bailey is a Black woman — not a woman with pale skin and wavy red hair like in the animated version.

Because of this, some have taken to social media to express their thoughts. The hashtag #NotMyAriel has been viewed 14 million times on TikTok and seen across Twitter and Instagram.

However, Disney’s casting for this film has also received praise and excitement. Positive reaction videos can be found on several social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram.

In these videos, we see young Black children with a mixture of shock and admiration on their faces. The first thing they notice when watching this teaser trailer is the similarity in skin tone and/or hair texture. They see themselves in Ariel’s character.

As many of us know, there are few Disney princesses of color. These princesses include Tiana, Pocahontas, Moana, Mulan, Jasminem, and now Ariel from the new adaptation. A few of these princesses have also been voiced by white women.

Having princesses of color can make younger audiences feel like they are a part of this world. Quite often, there are children of color that feel as though they do not belong. There is a barrier that is placed in front of them when it comes to the media and the real world.

Growing up, I did not get the chance to see many princesses of color. Though I was a fan of Disney’s princesses, I was never given the chance to truly see myself in one.

Being given the opportunity to see oneself in a film is huge, especially for young children. It is important for children to see themselves in the characters they admire or hope to be like.

Through representation, children are given the chance to not only see themselves but to believe in themselves. They will feel like they are worth being acknowledged, leading them to feel a sense of belonging in our world.

In an interview with Variety, Bailey spoke about the support she received from family during times of backlash. Her grandparents, especially, offered encouragement, telling her, “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,” Bailey said in the interview.

Following this, Bailey mentioned how her younger self would’ve felt a sense of belonging and confidence if the 1989 film had a Black Ariel.

“What that would have done for me, how that would have changed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything,” Bailey said. “Things that seem so small to everyone else, it’s so big to us.”

With Bailey’s words and the reactions of many Black children throughout the world, we see the importance of representing those that don’t often get the light.

This is a big moment. This celebration should be loud and proud.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.