Why a Black Ariel is Important for Ocean Conservation

Time for my controversial post of the month, maybe the year, who knows. I am actually coming up with some provocative blog post ideas, but when I saw the Little Mermaid trailer, I knew I had to make a post about it.

Disney is entering a new era, listening to their fans, and especially their young fans who are desperate for representation. And, folks, I am here for it! I enjoyed Encanto, and the message it shared about diversity, and being okay with who you are (and man, do I relate to Luisa– I feel you, sister), and family, and oh my Disney, did I love that movie.

I have a hard time narrowing down my favorite Disney movie. I definitely have a Top 3, with The Little Mermaid definitely making that cut. I was twelve when it came out, and already deeply deeply deeply in love with the ocean. I knew I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was five (before I realized I wanted specifically to be a marine mammal trainer). But when I saw Disney take me “Under the Sea,” I was enthralled. I must have watched that movie 15,000 times. I knew the movie backwards and forwards. “Part of Your World” became my anthem, but I didn’t sing it from Ariel’s point of view. I sang my own version dedicated to the ocean.

The Little Mermaid didn’t awaken in me a passion for conservation. However, it did feed my passion. And it gave me something to fall back on, kind of like a comfort movie, when I struggled. When my friends didn’t understand why I was so adamant about dolphin-safe tuna, I thought of Ariel and how she would approve of my efforts. On the swim team, when I swam the long distance races, I imagined I was swimming with my best friend Ariel as we explored underwater. I continued to love and cherish the sea, and while a huge part of that was my family encouraging me and supporting me every step of the way, a part of that was also seeing my imagination brought to life (albeit in cartoon) by a popular movie.

My favorite movie interpreted by my favorite artist, Wyland

So, when live-action remakes became the new Disney trend, I knew it certainly couldn’t be long before we had our live-action version of The Little Mermaid. I mean, it is iconic Disney, launching the Disney Renaissance. I knew they were considering a black actress for the lead role, but I didn’t think anything of it.

Until I saw the teaser trailer that released last week. First, let me just say, DAMN, Halle Bailey can sing! And is she ever gorgeous! I admit, I was not familiar with her work before her involvement in the movie, but just from those couple of lines she belted out in the preview, viewers are in for a treat when we see this movie.

But then the ugly internet had to go ruin it for everybody, and make racist and nasty comments. Seriously, folks, why? I’m not going to focus on that. My response to hearing about the backlash was, I feel this representation matters. I feel THIS princess being black does actually matter.

I am not alone in this belief. I was watching videos of the reactions of little girls upon watching the trailer. Disney did a sneaky tease where you don’t see Ariel’s face until the very end. And when these little girls see Ariel singing “Wish I could be…part of that world,” the reaction brings tears to my eyes. Even as I write this, I am recalling the faces just light up! “That’s Ariel? Ariel’s black? She’s black!” “She looks like me!”

Representation matters

“She looks like me!”

That right there is reason enough to have Ariel be black. But this is more than representation. No, you folks know me, and I have my own agenda. Seeing a black mermaid in what will likely be a huge blockbuster movie will inspire millions of children. Perhaps some of them are already curious about the ocean, but they feel it’s sort of off limits. Because of some ridiculous stereotype. Now, though, when they see Halle Bailey explore the underwater realm as Ariel, these young scientists, biologists, and conservationists will see the ocean is not off limits. It’s theirs to discover, to love, and to cherish.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become focused on how diversity in the field of conservation matters. Many black women don’t have role models to look up to that will encourage them, like I had growing up. I had Karen Pryor, Sylvia Earle, and yes, Ariel. Now, this is a small way that Disney can inspire a whole new generation to care about the sea and all its inhabitants.

The ocean is my sacred space, and the more people who love, cherish, and respect it, the more hope we have for a better future. So, I know EXACTLY what I will be doing on May 26, 2023, and yes, I absolutely LOVE the new Ariel. Let’s bring more diversity Under the Sea and become Part of That World, together.

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5 comments

  1. thank you!!!!!! Your article brought lots of tears to my eyes “someone must be chopping an onion nearby!” I have been so frustrated with the silly comments how it is scientifically incorrect to have a person of color as a mermaid. WHAT???!!! I can’t even imagine how a racist mind works their way into that thought. But representation is the most important aspect of this movie and it thrills my soul. Seeing the little girls pictured above gave me the biggest smile. May this movie bring about 10,000 PJ’s of color! This world will be amazing.

    1. YES YES YES! I agree 100% Roshelle! Wonderful post and I want to see an army of young black women taking charge in the industry and bringing change to the world. LOve it!

  2. Such a great article! I totally agree with you. I’m very excited for this movie, and also excited at what opportunities it will give the world through more diversity in scientific fields. And I def. encourage you to check out Halle’s music because it’s so good.

  3. Yes!! Great article! The “When your favorite Disney princess looks like you” reaction video almost brought me to tears.

    People forget the importance of “mirrors”, especially for children. People need to see positive role models that look like them to help them feel validated in the world. As a white person, I have so many “mirrors” already around me in media, and I really don’t understand how some white people feel there needs to be MORE representation of white people. Denying people access to mirrors they have a right to is also taking opportunities and dreams from them.

    More about mirrors ->
    https://www.katielear.com/child-therapy-blog/2020/2/7/racial-mirrors-windows-multicultural-books

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