Sayrie: A reimagined Little Mermaid is nice but it isn’t enough

Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid (2023, IMDb)

The trailer for the live action movie “The Little Mermaid,” which is scheduled to be released in early 2023, has dropped, and responses have been mixed. 

I was touched by the precious reactions of children from every demographic, and I was moved most by the excitement and shock of Black elders. It not only reaffirms for me the importance of representation, but also highlights the pervasiveness and continued validity of Race-Based Traumatic Stress (RBTS). In no way should psychological and emotional stress surround this innocent space of imagination but it does. This was a needed moment of healing for generations of people.

As beautiful as that concept is, and as much as I feel that reimagining Ariel is a step in the right direction, I have my reservations about it.

Historically, people of color have had a complicated relationship with American animation. From blackface to mammy and the foolishness of coonery, the oppressive nature of racial prejudice was inescapable, even in leisure. For decades the Black community has asked Disney for recognition and inclusion outside of the usual negative tropes. We wanted lead roles outside of the poor, subservient, outlandishly curvaceous, jive talking, voodoo juju, subhuman stereotypes often attributed to Black characters. Disney responded by including every last one of them in “The Princess and The Frog,” and in so many words said “here’s your princess.”

It was a patronizing slap in the face and a failure in my book. I use the term failure loosely, in that there was nothing accidental about it.

The writers and animators of “The Princess and the Frog” went through painstaking lengths to get it that “wrong.” A great deal of focus went into curating a storyline that diminished instead of uplifting Blackness. Tiana was the child of a servant, the time was the Jim Crow era, the place was New Orleans, there was the dark voodoo Juju of the Bayou, her firefly sidekick was less than cute and cuddly as they typically always are, and worst of all is the fact that she was only human for roughly 17 minutes of the entire feature. “The Princess and the Frog?”, no, “The Princess Was a Frog”.

It was not the gift to the Black community it pretended to be. It was malicious. That was 2009 and I still haven’t gotten over it. Fast forward fourteen years, and we will be able to add the remake of “The Little Mermaid” to the two-movie library of Disney animations with a Black lead. 

Yay? 

Am I looking forward to its release? Yes. However, in many ways it misses the mark and is still not what we asked for, but baby steps, I guess? I for one am still looking for an unoppressed, human, Black protagonist, with a nuclear/extended family dynamic. Surely it is not too difficult of a task for an industry giant such as Disney? 

A native of Phoenix, Arizona Aundrea Sayrie is a firm believer in the power of words, faith and a strong spirit. Her greatest desire is to encourage those around her to discover and honor their truth, and to passionately live on purpose.


Any views or opinions expressed in “Living on Purpose” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.

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