In case you were busy this holiday week, let me remind you of some important news that was discussed. Disney is going to be making a live-action The Little Mermaid which, previous remakes aside, is pretty exciting. They’ve also cast singer Halle Bailey as Ariel, which means the lead actress will have strong singing chops this go around. Oh, and Bailey is also black. That’s a pretty key thing to know, because the internet is flipping out, as is tradition.
Ariel must be a cute girl with white skin and red hair singing sweet and crisp!! Refuse her to become black!! If Ariel can turn into black skin, then I am equally qualified to ask Tiana to turn yellow skin!!#Ariel #ArielisBlack— tuanrunrun (@www35296758) July 4, 2019
Here's what I don't get:— Matthew St.Clair (@filmguy619) July 4, 2019
Scarlett Johansson stars in GHOST IN THE SHELL:
"Eh, they probably wanted the best actor for the job."
But when a black woman plays Ariel in THE LITTLE MERMAID, people are like:
"A disgrace. Ariel should be white."
While some were happy to freak out over a fictional character, who is also a fictional species (not human) suddenly being black, others were simply happy a great singer was put in the role of a musical, where she can do the character justice. Bailey is one part of the singing duo Chloe x Halle, a contemporary R&B group with her sister as the other half, and she’s pretty damn good. Along with an innocent look, Halle has a great voice and an amazing range. Other than her skin color being different from the animated character, which is no consequence at all, nothing really stands out as a reason she *shouldn’t* be Ariel.
That’s the big deal though, isn’t it? But, perhaps instead of worrying about the characters skin color, we should be happy someone was cast who can do the job well. Disney movies are largely musical, which means that a burden to carry iconic songs falls on the shoulders of actors who, while often can sing decently themselves, are not trained or experienced enough to have the range for these musical numbers. Bailey has the vocal talent and range to sing any number in The Little Mermaid without having to rely on a secondary singer to do the parts for her. While it’s not a guarantee that The Little Mermaid will be any good, it can only help the movie’s cause.
Even without the musical numbers, though, live-action adaptations are not an easy sell. Let’s not forget the dumpster fires that are the Michael Bay Transformers movies, the disappointment that was the Death Note adaptation on Netflix, the Dragonball movie and the absolute shitshow that was the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie. Finding the right mix of talent and story to make a live action movie successful *and* good is more difficult than it sounds. Most simply end up turning into films we are all better off forgetting existed in the first place.
If live action movies somehow avoid imploding on themselves, there is still the risk they will never rise beyond mediocre. They are competing with nostalgia, and often with legendary pieces of film to boot. While remakes such as The Jungle Book enjoyed critical acclaim, others such as Beauty and the Beast are seen as middling affairs. While they often make money, they can’t compete with the source story and exist solely as “Hey, remember when this movie was a live action film?” They are relegated to history, to be brought up as trivia facts rather than remembered as beloved films.
A good live-action remake needs a solid script, a good cast, a great director and the bravery to go after the source material and challenge it for the title of “best version” of its story. We don’t yet know what the script for The Little Mermaid will be, but we know that its director, Rob Marshall (Chicago, Mary Poppins Returns, Into the Woods), has a history of good to great musical movies under his belt.
And, in a world where Scarlett Johansson played an Asian woman, Topher Grace played Venom, Johnny Depp played Tonto, Tilda Swinton played an Asian woman, Jake Gyllenhaal played an Iranian man and Emma Watson was chosen over Emmy Rossum as Belle (still bitter about this), maybe we can let a great singer in a role that requires a great singer slide by. Even if she’s black.
Hollywood has a lot of issues when it comes to casting their movies well, but Ariel being a black woman isn’t one of them. Let’s see what Halle Bailey can do, and then go from there, shall we?
Caleb Edwards is a senior studying professional writing with a focus in editing and publishing. When he isn’t working or writing you can find him tending his fish, taking care of his cats and dogs or trying to find free time that he can waste (there never is any). You can follow him on Twitter @CEdwardsSam or find him at his website CalebMEdwards.com