Brown Like Me: Why Disney’s The Little Mermaid Is Vital

Black girls and their parents react to the new live action trailer.

As parents recorded them, big smiles, giggles and tears filled the eyes of young Black girls as they reacted to seeing Halle Bailey as Ariel in the teaser trailer of the new live action, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

“Mommy! She’s Brown like me,” says a little girl in a video posted by TikTok user @nickyknackpaddywack. TikTok user @mrsshannonlanier posted a video of a young girl shouting, “She’s Black! Finally a Black Mermaid.”

@mrshannonlanier #LittleLaniers #reaction to #thelittlemermaid #blackmermaid @hallebailey @disney THANK YOU 4 this. it means the #world to so many! #blackexcellence #fyp #fypシ #trending #viral #HalleBailey #littlemermaid #Disney ♬ original sound – MrShannonLanier

The 83-second sneak-peek trailer features Bailey singing a snippet of Ariel’s iconic song, “Part of Your World.” Bailey, a Grammy-award winning artist of musical duo Chloe x Halle, strikes a deal with a sea witch to become human — and marks Disney’s first Black live action princess.

As some praised the bold move of Disney, there has also been a load of criticism over Disney’s decision to cast Bailey, a Black woman in the lead role. Hashtags like #NotMyAriel have been found floating through social media feeds to the point that YouTube hid the dislike counter after 1.5 million “dislikes” and comments.

One Twitter user posted: “If Disney wants more diversity, they should have create another character…Before respecting all the other ethnicities and cultures, shouldn’t they at least be respectful to the origin ??? #notmyariel.”

Another Twitter user, Jo_San_Music, posted: “Not even angry/sad/disillusioned anymore just numb, here’s to another childhood classic ruined by Disney. It’s a design aesthetic/branding consistency thang not only because of the race swap. #NotMyAriel #TheLittleMermaid #thelittlemermaidtrailer #dismaldisney #disney #D23Expo”

Why this representation matters

Dr. Lisa Doris Alexander, a professor in the African American Studies department at Wayne State University, says she believes seeing this clip of a Black Ariel shows why it’s so important for children to see representation.

“You only have to look at the TikTok videos of little Black and Brown girls seeing the trailer for the first time and beaming with joy to know my thoughts,” Alexander says. “That’s why representation is so important because those little children are saying ‘she looks like me,’ ‘an undersea princess looks like me’ and that brings them joy. The story of ‘The Little Mermaid’ is a bit problematic, but we should let the little ones have their joy.”

Young Black girls have watched Disney films for nearly 70 years without seeing themselves. Ariel, a fictional animated character portrayed in Disney’s previous 1989 film, was white with red hair and blue eyes. In the new live action feature, she now has ginger-colored dreadlocks and is Black.

In Disney’s 100-year history, there has been one Black Disney princess — Princess Tiana from the 2009 movie, “The Princess and the Frog,” played by actress Anika Noni Rose.

“There have been thousands of shows and movies starring white people, catered to white audiences. Growing up, white kids always had the opportunity to see themselves in characters, princesses, doctors, lawyers, presidents,” says Erica Jones of Pontiac. “Seeing your favorite characters achieve major accomplishments and follow their dreams as a child can inspire children to want to do the same in their own life. And it’s something they can carry with them as they grow up.”

It’s so important for children of color, she says.

“If children only ever see white women as the princess or the love interest, they can start to think they aren’t pretty enough to be her, because they are not white and ‘white is the beauty standard.’ … If we don’t see these things in real life, we tend to believe it’s not possible. Seeing is believing.”

One Twitter user also posted what it means to have a Black character in a Disney film this time around. Twitter user ms_ladylox posted, “She’s not their Ariel but she’s ours and I’m proud that my daughters get to see someone who looks like them on screen. #NotMyAriel.”

For Bailey, “seeing these little babies reactions makes me so emotional,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “Thank you all for your unwavering support.”

The new “Little Mermaid” also features stars Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy and Awkwafina.

The Little Mermaid is set to be released in theaters May 26, 2023.

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Darlene A. White
Darlene A. White
Darlene A. White, is a dedicated freelance journalist based in metro Detroit. With over a decade of journalistic experience under her belt, she creates compelling stories that attract a diverse readership, with a particular emphasis on parenting. As a mom of twins, Darlene enjoys library visits, park coffees and Target outings.


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