To all Little Mermaid fans who were disheartened to learn that Disney casting a black woman in the role of Ariel had prompted a racist backlash, worry not: The #NotMyAriel controversy is mostly fake news.
Last week, Disney announced that Halle Bailey, a black actress, would portray the fictional mermaid princess in a live-action remake. Allegedly, this infuriated some racists because Ariel is red-haired and white-skinned in the cartoon version. “Us white girls, who grew up with The Little Mermaid, deserved a true-to-color Ariel,” wrote one critic, Rebeccs, in a tweet that went viral. “Disney, you made a huge mistake by hiring Halle Bailey.”
Horrified? Don’t be. A troll account was responsible for the tweet, as Buzzfeed‘s Brandon Wall helpfully explained:
This viral tweet complaining about the Little Mermaid casting being racist has a profile pic stolen from an Instagram model. The “half black best friend” pic is taken from god knows where, but shows up in a bunch of Pinterest BFF roundups pic.twitter.com/aYMwKf1XNl
— Brandon Wall (@Walldo) July 4, 2019
Moreover, there were a lot more people responding to the tweet and disagreeing with it than liking it.
It’s true that a few Twitter users seemed genuinely upset about the casting. But the overwhelming majority of people tweeting #NotMyAriel are doing so in support of Bailey and expressing outrage that anyone would be offended by a black Ariel. Their fury is well-intended but largely unnecessary.
Nevertheless, The Washington Post ran not one but two articles on Tuesday bemoaning the “uproar over a black Ariel.” (Articles appeared at other sites as well.) The only evidence of said uproar is a handful of tweets, which again, are more than canceled out by all the other tweets. But try telling that to history professor Brooke Newman, who implies in The Post that there’s an Ursula-sized backlash to the casting and that it all has something to do with Trump:
On July 4, as Americans celebrated Independence Day with barbecue, fireworks and armored vehicles rolling through the streets of Washington, #NotMyAriel began trending on Twitter. The hashtag took off in response to the announcement that Disney had hired Halle Bailey, an African American actress and R&B singer, to star as Ariel in the upcoming live-action remake of the 1989 feature-length cartoon “The Little Mermaid.”
The #NotMyAriel backlash is part of the wave of white nostalgia that Donald Trump used to win the presidency by appealing to white, working-class Americans who feel marginalized by the country’s growing diversity. In Trump’s America, it’s possible to return to a “simpler” past characterized by upward economic mobility and straight, white male cultural and political dominance.
#NotMyAriel was trending because a lot of people were tweeting that it’s stupid to be offended by a black Ariel. This is not evidence of a widespread backlash, but evidence against it. Mistakes like these are the result of taking social media too seriously and too literally.
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