Reimagining the white washed disney princess

Any movie-lover would note that our culture has entered an era of remakes. While many have negative opinions of this era, we can all agree that remaking old movies provides a chance to take the impact they had and amplify it. Disney has announced a live action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” whose production is rumored to start April of this year. Disney announced their casting choice for the beloved Princess Ariel: Halle Bailey. As a woman of color, casting Halle Bailey has caused quite a bit of controversy among the Disney fan base. Most people, especially those who were a kid in the 1990’s, have a distinct image of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”: A pretty, pale, redheaded girl with a long green tail.

When I was a child, “Peter Pan” was my favorite movie and the character that impacted me the most was Tinkerbell. Like Tinkerbell, I am small and blonde. It sounds simple and small.Matching hair color shouldn’t be a strong indicator of emotional connection, but she was important to me because she looked like me. My friend, a redhead, feels the same way about Ariel that I do about Tink. We, as well as most of the other kids our age, can see the importance in identifying with characters in movies. Seeing ourselves represented in these lively, strong characters made us feel validated.

Imagine being a young girl, looking up at movie screens and billboards, or turning on the TV to see no characters that look like you. How must it feel to be a young girl, walking around a toy store, to see no dolls that have the same color skin as you? These girls grow up, seeing projections of what women “should” be, and cannot relate because they will never look like these projections. When I was little, seeing characters that looked like me helped me create a sense of self identity. I felt valid, visible. I couldn’t imagine growing up, feeling invalid and invisible.

There have been many live action Disney remakes in the past years. The only unique thing about the most recent “The Little Mermaid” remake is that the race of the princess is changed. People feel that there is no real reason to do this, and they want the movie to keep the detail of the white princess true to its origins. The Little Mermaid is about just that; a mermaid, a fictional character. Mermaids have no realistic characteristics; there is no reason that the mermaid could not be a princess of color.

As white women, movies gave us our princesses. We have met the princes that fall in love with girls that look like us and watched these women accomplish what we could only imagine. Because we saw ourselves in these princesses, we knew we could do it as well. This representation is so important to our development of self identity and establishing our places in society. All girls deserve to feel represented. Young girls of color deserve this new Ariel; they have been waiting for her too long.

Hannah Barras is a third-year communications major at West Chester University. HB888984@wcupa.edu

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