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Disney's 2023 "The Little Mermaid" Was an Inspiration to Girls of Color

In 2023, Disney unveiled a refreshing and revolutionary portrayal of Ariel, the iconic mermaid princess, in its live-action adaptation of "The Little Mermaid." As Halle Bailey took center stage as Ariel, it wasn't just a tale of love and adventure that unfolded; it was also a narrative of empowerment, representation, and inspiration, particularly for young girls of color.

Leah Murphy, an ambitious eleven-year-old from Farmington Hills, Michigan, exemplifies this film's impact. Dreaming of owning her hotel chain, Leah resonates with Bailey's Ariel, drawing parallels between the mermaid's tale and her aspirations. Ariel, once portrayed as a white mermaid with straight red hair, now mirrors young Black and brown girls, like Leah, in their dreams and aspirations. "It makes me think I can do this, and I can do it without anyone stopping me," Leah shares.

It's noteworthy to recognize animation's significant role in molding a child's perspective. Animated films, often the first medium of entertainment they're exposed to, have the power to shape their understanding of race and identity. A non-profit Common Sense study reveals the importance of on-screen representation and its effects on young viewers. Children need to see their own stories, faces, and lives echoed back at them, promoting confidence, understanding, and unity.

During the film's world premiere, Halle Bailey poignantly expressed this sentiment: "I just hope that they know they are worthy... I hope that they see themselves through me on the screen."

However, only some reactions to the film were positive. Upon the film's trailer release, debates erupted regarding Ariel's portrayal, with some critics arguing that Ariel, rooted in Danish European folklore, should remain white. But these critiques often overlooked a crucial point: Ariel is a creation of imagination, and her tale is fictional. Why, then, should her race be confined?

The film's director, Rob Marshall, elegantly dismissed the racial criticisms, highlighting the importance of embracing diversity. "Being different, it's very timely... My hope is that this beautiful tale of a mermaid can remind us all that we are all one," he emphasized.

Despite the pockets of backlash, the film's significance in the annals of representation cannot be understated. Young Black and brown girls, like 14-year-old ballet dancer Alexandra Francois from Baldwin, New York, felt seen. "It gave me motivation for myself," Francois articulated.

Maryann Erigha, an expert from the University of Georgia, stresses the importance of visual representation in our culture. To her, we were casting Bailey as Ariel marks a pivotal step towards inclusive storytelling, providing a role model for countless girls.

This reimagined "Little Mermaid" resonated with empowerment organizations like Brown Girls Do Ballet and Pretty Brown Girl. These organizations underline the essence of representation, especially when diversity and inclusivity are continually challenged.

Takiyah Wallace, founder of Brown Girls Do Ballet, likens the film's impact to the inception of her youth ballet group, emphasizing how crucial it is for young Black and brown girls to see themselves in powerful roles. On the same note, Shaela Lawson of Pretty Brown Girl highlights the need to shatter stereotypes, hoping the film propels young Black girls to be pioneers in their chosen paths.

In conclusion, Disney's 2023 "The Little Mermaid" is a beacon of hope and inspiration for girls of color worldwide. It's a testament to the beauty of inclusivity and the power of representation. As Lawson aptly said, "Celebrating difference should be a part of every storyline." And indeed, in this retelling of Ariel's story, the difference was celebrated and revered.

Contributed By Sana Mubashar

Sana Mubashar is a seasoned content writer and blogger with over 5 years of global experience. She has been actively serving clients worldwide through platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. Her expertise lies in various areas including website landing page development, copywriting, blog post writing, affiliate writing, product reviews, press releases, and other types of writing. Sana excels in crafting unique content and implementing effective strategies to enhance online presence and engage target audiences.


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