Emery said she loves Bailey’s long hair and mermaid tail. It reminds her of her swimming lessons and how she trains to hold her breath underwater. She knows all the Disney princesses and wants to live in a castle one day.
But her mother sees something bigger. It always made him “feel good” to see black characters on TV, said Avery, 33, and now his daughter was experiencing it.
Black parents across the country are snapping up their daughters in response to Disney’s new trailer. Videos of children screaming for joy, dancing, tearing up or proclaiming “She’s brunette like me” have gone viralgarnering millions of views and triggering a marketing boon for Disney.
Parents say the videos show why it’s important for kids to see people who look like them in movies and TV shows. But for some black moms, the moment was powerful in another way, allowing them to relive a piece of their childhood through a new lens.
Bailey is the latest iteration of the fairytale mermaid, replacing the cartoon redhead from the 1989 Disney film. The original rebellious undersea princess had huge blue eyes and wore a purple bikini top made of seashells. Instead of legs, she had a green fishtail. For Bailey, “seeing the reactions of these little babies makes me so emotional,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “Thank you all for your unwavering support.”
The live-action movie “The Little Mermaid,” slated for release in May 2023, won’t be the first Disney movie featuring a dark princess. Princess Tiana in ‘The Princess and the Frog’ made history as Disney’s first black princess in 2009, and the 1997 remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella’, in which singer Brandy Norwood took on the lead role, started streaming on Disney Plus last year.
Dariana Fleming, 26, remembers how important it was for her to see Cinderella played by a black woman as a child. Inspired by videos of black girls reacting to the ‘Little Mermaid’ teaser, she decided to make her own. Her daughters Rylie, 2, and McKenzie, 4, smiled as they watched the first few seconds of the trailer. Their smiles turned to gasps and laughter when Bailey appeared onscreen.
Rylie was seduced. McKenzie says she was impressed that Ariel’s hair had dreads like her father. The video documenting their response to the new Black Ariel has been viewed on TikTok over 2 million times. “For me, I haven’t really grown them up, so it’s nice to have that representation for their generation,” Fleming said.
Ashley Potts, 26, says she doesn’t talk about skin color with her 5-year-old daughter, London, but it was clear she was shocked to see an Ariel who looked like her. London already loved ‘The Little Mermaid’ and has an ever-growing collection of mermaid dolls, including a prized Disneyland Ariel doll she received for her birthday.
While watching the trailer, she pointed to the mermaid princess several times while her mother was recording, but once the toddler saw Ariel’s face, she fell silent. “It was a natural reaction for her,” Potts said. “I want to cry.”
“It’s so surreal that the mermaid I grew up with is going to grow up with my kids in a whole different way,” said Dariyan Bell, a 30-year-old mother of five. In a video, which Bell posted to her TikTok account, 3-year-old Zavae suddenly stopped performing once she heard Bailey sing “Part of Your World.” With her back to her mother, Zavae is seemingly mesmerized by Bailey’s on-screen image.
The outpouring of reactions from little black girls was a huge marketing boost for the film. But these feelings of joy and awe were not universal. Bailey’s casting announcement in 2019 was initially met with some backlash. Some critics on Twitter used the hashtags #NotMyAriel and #NotMyMermaid to claim that the person chosen to play Ariel should have been white, like the Danish author of the story and in the original animation.
Many of his fans used the same Twitter hashtags, along with #MyAriel, to come to Bailey’s defense. They noted that mermaids are mythical creatures that appeared in legends and folktales around the world, including in the African diaspora. The Disney Freeform Network also supported Bailey on social media with “An Open Letter to Poor and Unhappy Souls.”
The Disney Network defends the casting of a black actress in the remake of a classic film
Bailey isn’t the only actor of color to be harassed for playing characters originally portrayed by white actors or in predominantly white movie franchises. John Boyega faced so much racist abuse from fans when he was cast as Finn in 2015’s ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ that he told SiriusXM he wasn’t interested to return to the “Star Wars” franchise. Leslie Jones and Kelly Marie Tran received similar hate for their roles in the reboot of “Ghostbusters” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” respectively.
Although Disney has included more diverse characters such as Princess Tiana in recent years, the changes were long overdue, said Kaila Story, associate professor in the departments of Pan-African Studies and Women’s, Gender and Gender Studies. sexuality at the University of Louisville.
Shows with white actors have always been presented as appropriate for all audiences, Story said, while films with black actors and filmmakers were intended only for black people. Still, featuring more characters of color on TV and in movies is more reflective of what the world looks like, she said.
What sets Ariel in the new “Little Mermaid” apart from some of Disney’s other non-white protagonists, such as Pocahontas, is that “the core of her story doesn’t have to be that she simultaneously unpacks her racial identity.” History says.
For 33-year-old Devyn Coulson, sharing Disney movies with her 3-year-old daughter Khloe has always been a time of closure and a chance to relive her childhood. “It makes me feel like I can get a glimpse of how my mom felt when I found so much joy in Disney movies,” she says.
But Khloe’s reaction to the new ‘Little Mermaid’ trailer was special. In the video, Khloe fixes her gaze on the screen, her eyes appearing to fill with tears. “Are you crying?” Coulson asked Khloe, who immediately denied. “Oh, sweet girl,” her mother cooed.
Adelia Chaiyakul, 31, said she also felt like she was back in her own childhood after watching the ‘Little Mermaid’ video with her 9-year-old daughter Ava, who told her mother she was famous at school after his reaction video. , in which she smiles and covers her mouth in shock at seeing the new Ariel, has gone viral on TikTok.
Chaiyakul said that because she didn’t see herself reflected in the characters growing up, she just had to imagine. But in the comments to the viral TikTok video, she realized how reaction videos like her daughter’s made many white women realize how much they took for granted to see themselves in white princesses and other characters.
That dynamic will change with the next generation, Chaiyakul said. “I kind of made it up in my head that I was a princess,” she said. “She actually sees that she’s a princess.”