There is a new Disney movie coming out, and it’s a live-action version of The Little Mermaid!
Except… this one is somehow, incomprehensibly, controversial.
Because Ariel is played by Halle Bailey, who is… Black.
Oh my gosh.
A Black mermaid.
The controversy is not the fact that a woman completely abandons her voice and identity and home in order to become an acceptable bride for a man who abandons her anyway, or the fact that Hans Christian Anderson wrote The Little Mermaid as a queer man who was looking for love in a time when that wasn’t possible for him…
It’s that she’s Black.
The reason this is so frustrating and exhausting is this: if people are getting so butthurt about a Black mermaid, imagine what it’s like for a Black person actually arriving in a real-life role at a real company in the real world.
If a fictional character can’t even be portrayed as Black, whew.
So yeah. This matters.
Because look at this.
I cried and cried the first time I saw these reaction videos on the internets because look at these kids.
Look how delighted they are to see themselves in a Disney princess.
This is something I will never have to experience—I’m so used to seeing myself everywhere. There are few situations I can’t imagine myself in, because there are few situations I’m not represented in.
And for white men, there are no spaces that don’t belong to them, no roles they can’t see themselves in.
This is why representation matters so damn much—yes, this is a Disney film, but it’s a step. Little Black and brown girls everywhere will see that movie and think, “I could do that. I could act in any role.”
It’s not enough for an engineering company, for example, to say, “We’ll hire anyone but we don’t get any (or enough) Black or female applicants.”
Because take a look at their website or their job ad or the staff page on their website, and you won’t see those people represented. And so of course Black people and women won’t apply—it’s not a welcoming environment. If we can’t see ourselves represented there, the subtle message is, “this job, this workplace, isn’t for you.”
Take a look all-white, all-male panels at business events—they don’t scream “come and play” if you’re not white and male.
And all those books on the English GCSE curriculum are still dominated by dusty old white dudes.
As if there are no other viewpoints or stories worth sharing.
As if literature, fictional and nonfiction, stopped in the 1800s.
If you’re from an underrepresented demographic, write your story. If you’re Black, or Asian, or brown, or any other colour of non-white, or queer, or neurodiverse, or disabled—tell your story because people will be grateful you did. Find someone who will support you to do so with your whole chest, because we do exist.
But if you’re white and neurotypical and straight and able-bodied, use that privilege and power to demand more diversity from the publishing industry!
Seek out books by people who are unlike you.
Champion writers and authors and storytellers who come from a different background.
Ask your local libraries and bookshops for books by authors who’ll show you a different world and a different way to move through it.
Then share them with other people who might not find them on their own.