The Controversy of Disney Casting Black Women to Portray White Female Characters

This past summer, Disney announced the beginning stages of production of the live-adaptation of their most famous animated films, The Little Mermaid (1989). Along with that, they also revealed who would be playing Princess Ariel which will be Halle Bailey, an African American woman most known for being the other half of the singing duo with older sister Chloe, Chloe and Halle, and for her role in ABC’s sitcom Grown-ish, a spinoff of the show Black-ish.

The announcement was followed by backlash from fans expressing their anger about Disney’s decision to cast Bailey to play Ariel. Many expressed that she couldn’t possibly fulfill the role properly simply because she is not white, therefore looks nothing like Ariel from the original film.

A hashtag, #NotMyAriel quickly ensued and began trending across multiple social media platforms, many users criticizing Bailey and her capabilities of bringing fans that nostalgic feeling of their favorite film.

“As much as I understand that Ariel is a fictional character whose race has nothing to do with her story, can we get someone that atleast looks like her? I thought that was a part of the casting #notmyariel.”

“#notmyariel Which other character have we to blackwash and change?”

These are just a few examples of the tweets using the #notmyariel hashtag.

When the casting was first announced, Bailey expressed her excitement for being granted the opportunity to portray such an iconic Disney princess during an interview with Variety: “I feel like I’m dreaming, and I’m just grateful. And I don’t pay attention to the negativity. I just feel like this role is something bigger than me, and greater, and it’s going to be beautiful. I’m just so excited to be a a part of it.”

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney has postponed production of the Little Mermaid until further notice.

Recently as September of this year, Disney also announced the casting for another live-adaption of Peter Pan (1911), called Peter Pan and Wendy. The movie will also star Yara Shahidi as Tinkerbell, who is most known for her role as Zoey in ABC’s Black-ish and reprising the role in the spinoff Grown-ish (alongside Halle Bailey).

This announcement was not followed with as much backlash as Bailey’s role as Ariel, but there was still criticism from fans about casting black women to play roles as white characters.

Despite the negativity that followed both announcements, Bailey and Shahidi have also received immense support, praise, and congratulations for earning such iconic roles from industry figures and celebrities alike. Disney’s first black princess did not hit theaters until 2009, through the film, The Princess and The Frog. There also has not been another since then. With black women having one princess to potentially portray in a live-action remake (if it happens for the particular movie), what roles are they left with to play besides animal sidekicks, mothers, or other less important counterparts? The majority of the iconic princess roles are white leaving black women with very limited opportunities to adapt these roles IF the mission are to make each princess look like spitting images of the originials.

Do you think Disney should continue casting with diversity in mind or go back to casting look-alikes for live-action remakes?

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