It's easy to get upset when the movie you've paid tickets for turns out to be not as good as you expected. It's also common to see people get mad when a film adaptation of their favourite novel doesn't do it justice, whether due to plot changes or miscast roles. I mean it's OK if you aren't happy and complain about it to your friends and family. However, don't you think it's a little overboard to go online and slam the movie on social media, or even join in with other angry netizens and start mocking and bullying the actor who portrays the role that you don't approve of?
Less than two weeks ago, Disney released a trailer for the upcoming live-action remake of 1989's animated musical fantasy The Little Mermaid during D23 FanExpo. Unfortunately, the latest remake has been engulfed in controversy and became a target of internet trolls after it received 1.6 million dislikes in the first two days. The reason was due to Disney's decision of swapping out the titular mermaid's famous red hair and blue eyes for the features of black actress Halle Bailey instead, which sparked the controversy.
"It means the world to me to play a character like this. If I would have seen a woman who was my skin colour on the screen when I was little, I think it would have changed so much for me and my whole perspective on life," Bailey told ET Canada during an interview about her role in The Little Mermaid.
This is not the first time roles have been reversed in Disney remakes as they are proud to say they're promoting diversity and inclusivity with casting. There are other non-white performers who have been cast for live-action titles, such as British actress Cynthia Erivo as the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, American actress Rachel Zegler as Snow White, and Yara Shahidi as Tinkerbell in the upcoming Peter Pan film.
Although there were fans thrilled with the news that Bailey would play Ariel, there are also internet trolls decrying the prospect of a black mermaid princess with the hashtag #NotMyAriel. Twitter user @TenGazillioinIQ took the bullying to the next level and "fixed" a clip by using AI to make the live-action fish woman white. The user has now reportedly been suspended from the platform.
The thing is, we as fans have been through this kind of conversation before when roles are reversed. We've seen negative reactions when white actors are cast in non-white roles, and they've been told that that is unacceptable. For example, in 2017, British actor Ed Skrein was pulled out of a role in the upcoming Hellboy reboot after a backlash because he was cast as a character of Asian heritage in the original comic. A few years before that, Emma Stone's casting as an Asian woman in the 2015's romantic comedy Aloha provoked so much wrath that the director of the film had to issue a written apology. That same year, Rooney Mara had to beg for forgiveness after starring in a Peter Pan adaptation as Tiger Lily, a fictional character supposed to be Native American.
While some pointed out that this negative reaction in Bailey's case is the result of a racist backlash, some Disney fans said the reason they got upset was because this is not how the original Ariel character was. The Little Mermaid is a fairy tale written by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, so it was European in origin, and that's why Ariel is always white. So if race is not the issue here, could this be due to identity politics or a campaign to take over an existing franchise and shoehorn in a political ideology for more diversity?
Whatever the reason may be, I just don't see why we, as fans and audiences, have the right to sabotage others online just because we're not happy with some of their decisions. This reminds me of those who became Game Of Thrones haters because they weren't satisfied with the show's final season. It doesn't matter what race Ariel, Snow White or Elsa are, because race is not a key part of the story. And with that being said, shouldn't the role just go to whichever actress embodies the character the best?
Tatat Bunnag is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.