We are all losers in the ‘woke v racist’ Little Mermaid culture war – The Guardian

The boring spat over the Disney trailer makes idiots of us all – whether Ariel is black or white, it is clearly a film that should rightfully be ignored then forgotten forever
The worst thing about the state of the culture wars is that it requires us to formulate opinions about things that absolutely do not deserve them. Exhibit A is Disney’s forthcoming live action remake of The Little Mermaid. By all accounts, this isn’t really a film that deserves to take up a lot of anyone’s brain power. It’s an old story, retold using technology that will date much faster than traditional animation, and in any other age it would be in cinemas for four weeks, gently fizzle out and never be thought of ever again.
But this is 2022, which means we have to wade through all the racists before that can happen. For the latecomers: The Little Mermaid will star black actor and singer Halle Bailey as Ariel. And, with an inevitability that could crush your bones to dust, a segment of the internet has reacted poorly to this.
This week it emerged that the film’s trailer had received a million and a half dislikes from outraged film fans spluttering with rage that the character is no longer a sexy aquatic caucasian redhead. One Twitter user was recently suspended for celebrating an AI artist having “fixed” Bailey’s image to that of a white woman. “It’s over for wokecels”, he wrote triumphantly, just before the hammer came down.
And, as with Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings and countless other entertainment properties that have utilised diverse casting of late, there has been backlash to the backlash. Most recently, Jodi Benson, the actress who voiced Ariel in 1989’s animated Little Mermaid, has posted a message of support for Bailey on Instagram: “I’m SO proud of you & your beautiful performance as Ariel”.
So here we are. It is now impossible to remain neutral about The Little Mermaid. You are either opposed to the idea that a mermaid might not necessarily always be white or excited to watch it out of principle because you don’t want the racists to win. It’s one or the other. The lines have been drawn, and that means the film won’t be properly evaluated on its merits until all the noise has died down, which won’t happen until long after its release.
And this is The Little Mermaid, for crying out loud. If the previous live action Disney remakes are any indication, then it will barely even qualify as a film. It’ll be a rote, loveless exercise in maintaining an existing IP, which won’t hold a candle to the original. When was the last time you felt excited about seeing Guy Richie’s Aladdin remake? Or Tim Burton’s Dumbo? A new live action Pinocchio just dropped on Disney+ and I’ve yet to meet a single person able to summon even an atom of energy to watch it. There are plenty of legitimate reasons not to want to watch The Little Mermaid; to focus on the casting of the mermaid herself seems an incredible waste of energy.
To make matters worse, John Favreau’s live action Lion King remake already pointed to a solution that would keep everyone happy. That film was full of photorealistic digital animation, if you remember, so all the characters’ entertainingly exaggerated facial expressions in the original were replaced with blankly unresponsive animals just slightly opening and closing their mouths. And this is the way The Little Mermaid could have gone. Forget about black actresses and white actresses, let’s have a grotesque scaly mutant as the lead. Let her have claws and sharp teeth and no hair, like the mermaid at The Horniman museum. Let her trail a rope of faeces around behind her at all times. Let her be slowly and agonisingly poisoned by the acidification of the oceans. Just think of the fuss that could have been avoided by going down that path.


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