Note from BW of Brazil: Well, I’m sure all of you have heard the controversy surrounding Disney’s choice of a young black woman portraying the fictional Little Mermaid character. I didn’t get totally consumed with the issue because we’ve seen this so much over the years that I can’t really be bothered with getting too hyped up over it. But even not delving deep into the issue, I was still amazed at some of the reactions that I ended up seeing without even looking for it. One person took a picture of herself throwing a DVD cover of The Little Mermaid in the trash can after the announcement that Halle Bailey would be the new Little Mermaid. Then, there were people trying to use science to prove that mermaids can’t be black. Really? Pretty amazing the lengths people will go in arguing over a mythical figure.
The angle I’m taking on this issue obviously goes beyond the borders of the United States, as racial representation issues affect more than only the black folks in that country, but hundreds of millions of black people around the world. This issue touched a nerve with black Brazilians who are also accustomed to seeing black figures, both real and fictional, being portrayed by white actors not only on the small screen but also on stages. And again, as Brazil is such a HUGE consumer of American entertainment products, one can understand why the issue is so important for a country with such a large black population that is also starving for representation in the mainstream media.
What continues to amaze me on this issue is the fact that so many people still fail to see the sheer hypocrisy in film, TV, stage productions, and even TV commercials whitewashing personalities or fictional figures that actually were or were described as having been non-white. Huffington Post featured 25 examples of this whitewashing, while the Washington Post compiled a list of no less than 100 times that a character or historical figure that wasn’t was portrayed by a white actor. Brazil’s productions are also guilty of this as we’ve seen in major television productions that depicted Biblical characters as white, novel characters that were described as being non-white, as well as historical Brazilian personalities that have been portrayed as white (see here and here). And let us also not forget the African goddess of the sea, Iemanjá, that is often depicted as a mermaid, but somehow became a white woman in Brazil. All of this and I’m not even considering the many times blackface was used to represent black people (see here, here and here)
In covering Brazil from the racial perspective for a number of years, I KNEW Brazilians would have something say about this and, well, many reacted in the exact manner that I would have guessed. Take a look…
Translation of above comments
(Caption of photo: Blond, blue-eyes Jesus Christ, white Cleopatra, black Little Mermaid)
“MY GOD A BLACK LITTLE MERMAID I DO NOT ACCEPT 😠😠😠 but Jesus who was born in Israel can WITH ALL CERTAINTY HAVE BLUE EYES AND IS BLOND 😝😝 really because mermaids exist 😖😖 it makes a difference if she is not white that I saw as a child 😭😭😭 my Ariel is white.”
“@DisneyStudios is not faithful to the original work of the Little Mermaid, where have you ever seen placing a black actress to play the role of a white character, with no good sense😒😒”
“Ariel is based on the character, from the Danish fairy tale Havfrue Den lille, and the first film was released in 1989 as The Little Mermaid.”
“She’s WHITE and REDHEAD, and here comes Disney calling a black girl? Spare me #NotMyAriel”
“Okay, bros. it isn’t even racist, but the little mermaid is white, the actress should be. If the princess and the frog is played by a white actress, there would already be mad controversial whore. It’s not that I don’t like the girl but s.o.bs I don’t see the point.”
“Make Shrek black too, it’s not about racism, if the image of the little mermaid was defined as a white character, what’s the idea of change?! Racists are you who see racism in everything”
Note from BW of Brazil: To be sure, there were also many Brazilians, black and white, pointing out the absurdity of the reactions to a mythical figure, but also pointing out the history of media productions whitening figures that weren’t white. It’s funny how some people went into this idea of, “How would you feel if we made (fill in the black character/personality/fictional/historical figure) white?” Well, as I’ve already pointed out, this has already been done. And to be sure, I DO understand/agree that depictions of historical figures should be remain true to the race they were known to belong to, but in this context, it’s not even a fair debate to argue that white figures should remain white and black figures should remain black, because the money and power behind the creation of major film and TV productions are in the hands of white-skinned people.
Anyway, below, I am sharing just a few of the hundreds of reactions that black Brazilians had in relation to this issue over the last week…
Why doesn’t Egypt portrayed as white not bother people?
By Amanda Sthephanie
This week, the making of Halle Bailey as the protagonist of The Little Mermaid has opened yet another discussion on film representation. With arguments that Ariel would be Norwegian, internet users complained about the black actress in the representation of the mermaid.
Initially, it’s worth thinking that, in terms of what everything indicates, mermaids don’t exist. So they could be of any color. But much more evident and important than that, these discussions on the internet brought yet another issue to the fore: racism.
After all, audiences who are uncomfortable with a black Ariel have never been bothered by a white Egypt. Not to mention a lot of people who don’t even know the country is on the African continent.
In this sense, arguments like “Ariel can’t be black because her origin is different” would be incoherent even if the story of A Pequena Sereia (The Little Mermaid) was real.
A portion of the population has been bothered by white spaces being occupied, day after day, by blacks. And that this is happening more and more in cinema, one of the most important and admirable arts, so that blacks feel represented.
And that fallacious arguments are not used in order to de-legitimize conquests like a black Ariel. There have been years of representatives of história negra retratados como brancos (black history portrayed as white) or not even portrayed. A black Ariel is just the beginning.
‘No black 007, it doesn’t have anything to do with the history of the show, the British climate.” (007 just has to be handsome, fight well and use all that stuff)… “I’m against a central Star Wars character being black, it gets weird’. (being that it’s an Alien, teddy bear and a pair of robots, that’s fine)… ‘It has nothing to do with Hermione being black in the play, since she comes from an English book’ (yes, and the author says it’s possible to imagine her like this)…’Black classical dancers at the Bolshoi breaks the harmony of the group”. (why do they do a show for the Gestapo?).’ ‘Why put a black Ariel mermaid in the film? I don’t think it fits. (Since a mermaid is a mythological being of many peoples, like the brainless presidents, she can be whatever she is).’
Honey, what you can’t stand is seeing black people in roles other than servitude, subordinate or criminal. The real name of these objections is RACISM.”
Source: Todos Negros do Mundo