Disney’s Little Mermaid reboot has been criticized for “pretending SLAVERY didn’t exist” by a black rights activist who says it’s set in the colonial-era Caribbean but that “the islanders live in racial harmony.”
Marcus Ryder, head of external consultancy at the Lenny Henry Center For Media Diversity and UK President of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, celebrated the casting of Halle Bailey but objected to the film’s depiction of racial harmony.
After watching the Disney remake with his son, 6, Ryder wrote on his blog Black on white television about the film calling it a missed opportunity.
“Children’s movies shouldn’t ignore the more difficult parts of our history just because adults are uncomfortable addressing them,” he said.
Ryder said The Little Mermaid appears to be set in the Caribbean during the 18th century, a “time of African chattel slavery,” based on the ships, clothing, and other references.
Disney’s Little Mermaid reboot has been criticized for “pretending SLAVERY didn’t exist” by a black rights activist who says it takes place in the colonial-era Caribbean, but “the islanders live in racial harmony”
After watching the Disney remake with his son, 6, Ryder wrote about the film on his blog Black on White TV, calling it a missed opportunity
Ryder acknowledged that The Little Mermaid is fantasy and that the story need not be true to history – but argued that children are not well served by overlooking the past and suggested that it could be set in Haiti after the the chains of slavery.
“In this setting, I don’t think we’re doing our kids a favor by pretending that slavery didn’t exist,” he said.
“To me, Disney’s preference for trying to brush off the inconvenient truth says more about the mature creatives than it does about kids’ ability to work through it.”
He then drew parallels between the film and the setting of a film in 1940s Germany and ‘ignoring the holocaust’.
“Placing the fantastic story in this time and place is literally the equivalent of a love story between Jew and Gentile in 1940s Germany and ignoring the Jewish holocaust,” he said.
Or perhaps more accurately, placing it on a slave plantation in the antebellum South of America and pretending that the enslaved Africans were happy.
“The 18th-century Caribbean is a problematic time to craft a children’s story, but that should make it full of creative possibilities as opposed to encouraging historical amnesia.”
In a Twitter thread clarifying his comments, Ryder said he enjoyed the film, which he praised for its portrayal of black beauty and diversity on screen.
Ryder made parallels with the film’s setting in 1940s Germany – referring to the Holocaust
Ryder went on to stress that not every movie his six-year-old watches has to be historically accurate, but did emphasize that this particular reworking of history could be “dangerous.”
“Completely erasing and rewriting one of the most painful and important parts of the history of the African diaspora is bordering on dangerous,” he said.
“I don’t want my child to think the Caribbean was a time of racial harmony in the 18th century any more than I suspect a Jewish father would want his child to think that Germany in 1940 was a time of religious tolerance, however much we both can too. wish they were.’
On Twitter, Ryder posted about the blog, but after receiving comments, he deleted the tweet citing it as “widely misunderstood.”
In a follow-up tweet Ryder clarified his comments saying he had enjoyed the film, praised the screen’s depiction of diversity, but noted that the “great movie” left him “worried”.
“The sad reality is that this great movie made me worry that Disney was not taking seriously this very sensitive time and place, which must be treated with great care – especially for impressionable children – because of the atrocities that took place there,” he wrote.
Halle Bailey has been widely praised for her performance as Ariel, but critics have questioned the decision to opt for a mixed family of mermaids and mermen.
Sebastian the crab’s lyrics were changed in the remake, to remind Prince Eric to get Ariel’s permission before kissing her
“I understand and appreciate the arguments that The Little Mermaid is ‘mere fantasy’, a ‘fairy tale’ and ‘escapism’. Imaginations are powerful vehicles for children to understand the world around them, which is exactly why we have to be careful how we tell them as adults.
For the record, I liked the movie. There are many positive elements – one of them being the casting and normalization of black beauty – but that doesn’t mean I don’t think there aren’t flaws that could have been addressed better. (It’s my job to think about these things).’
However, others have criticized the extreme “wokery” that slipped into the live-action remake.
Critics and audiences have given the reboot of the 1989 animated classic “average” and “unfavorable” reviews on the review site Metacritic. Some bash the makers’ attempts to update the film to contemporary social mores.
Detractors have focused on changes to the plot and lyrics that play with sex, ethnicity and cultural values to make the 125-minute remake fit Disney’s progressive politics.
Scuttle, a male seagull in the original, has become a female gannet. Halle Bailey delivers a breathtaking performance as Ariel, but critics question the decision to switch the family to mixed-race mermaids and mermen.
In the new version, King Triton, played by Javier Bardem, laments that humans are polluting the oceans and destroying his undersea kingdom of Atlantica.
Melissa McCarthy, who plays villainous sea witch Ursula, says the character was inspired by drag queens, including 1970s movie icon Divine
King Triton, played by Javier Bardem, has developed environmentalist tendencies and laments humanity’s pollution of his undersea kingdom of Atlantica
Melissa McCarthy, who plays the villainous sea witch Ursula in the remake, has said her performance was influenced by drag queens — cross-dressing male comics who have become a lightning rod for America’s culture wars.
McCarthy’s inspiration may be consistent with the original, as the original Ursula was based on famed drag performer Divine, who appeared in films from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Fans are divided on the changes – some say it’s a reasonable update to fit changing attitudes, others say it’s unnecessary.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid topped the box office at number one over Memorial Day weekend with a whopping debut grossing an estimated $118 million.
The live-action remake, which is also mixed with CGI animation, stars Halle Bailey as Ariel, whose casting initially sparked backlash, Melissa McCarthy as sea witch Ursula, and Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric.
Last Friday, the film raked in a total of $38 million in ticket sales in honor of the anticipated project’s release in theaters to kick off its summer season.