A Black Little Mermaid Will Not Cause Armageddon

Oh remember the outcry when JK Rowling cast Black actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in “The Cursed Child” and she famously and accurately said “Idiots gonna idiot” when asked about the backlash against her? Well it seems to have happened again with the casting of Halle Bailey as The Little Mermaid. And it's ridiculous.

It is as if the Earth's mantle cracks and the gates of hell swing open, releasing a rampage of the cursed souls from Revelations and we were all doomed. DOOMED whenever a person of color is chosen to portray a lead role in… well in just about anything.

Even though they did this {youtube}https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZPRSOnzZdY - often and with full acceptance, we are admonished and relegated to the inferior, again - as if we shouldn't be allowed to be out of our "place" in Hollywood. I could get into the current iteration of blackface being the cultural appropriation of rap… but that’s a whole ‘nother article…

From the casting of David Oyelowo as the voice of James Bond, to Cinna, Rue and Thresh in the Hunger Games (even though in the book they were described as having brown skin) we confront racism head on whenever WE are cast in leading roles or even in equal companion roles like Men In Black.

Look, I am all for inclusivity when it comes to acting. Every actor should get a chance to perform based on their talent and ability to bring something to their role. Obviously, the role of Jeffrey Dahmer can’t be played by a Black man if the story is to be told accurately so yes, there are limits to who can play what. What I am irked about is the double-standard where people of color are concerned - which is notable when a role of a fictional character not specifically defined as having to be White, has to be played by a White actor. It's true that Black people have been historically relegated to the "Black Best Friend" roles, the first one to die in horror films, the maids, servants and chattle more often than not and we have become so conditioned to seeing ourselves in support roles that when we get a lead role, everyone starts examining everything. It should not be that way.

The Little Mermaid is a cartoon. Little Black girls and little White girls Asian, Native and Latina girls love the character, buy dolls and toys that emulate her, dress up like her and just like Barbie, she reflects the innocence of little girls of all ethnicities. People are just mad that Halle Bailey, who is a beautiful, fresh-faced Black girl, got a landmark role this time, instead of someone with a skin tone they're used to seeing. 

White actors have historically been placed in roles meant for people of color. Here are some examples of when White actors were cast in roles portraying people of color and nary a peep was made about it. Some of these movies were based on real events, some pure fantasy, but the characters played were all people of color either by their real personas or fictional character’s ethnicity and/or country or origin, language etc. This list is by no means complete, but you get the picture.

Joseph Fiennes in "Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon” (2016)
Character Played: Michael Jackson – yeah, THAT Michael Jackson. Using his vitiligo and surgery as an excuse is no excuse for this slap in the face.

Juliette Binoche in "The 33" (2015)
Character Played: Dark-skinned Chilean woman. They didn’t even try.

Russell Crowe as Noah in "Noah" (2014)
Character Played: Middle Eastern (Noah). Some people still think Noah was from Norway.

Christian Bale in "Exodus: Gods and Kings" (2014)
Characters Played: Middle Eastern (Moses)
King Ramses - Egyptian, was also played by a white guy. See above.

Johnny Depp in "The Lone Ranger" (2013)
Character Played: Tonto - Native American. Native Americans are still rare on-screen. And there are some brilliant Native actors who could have been cast in this role, but no.

Ben Affleck in "Argo" (2012)
Character Played: Mexican-American. *roll-eyes*

Liam Neeson in "Batman Begins" (2005) and "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)
Character Played: Ra's Al Ghul Born in Arabia and is considered of Arab descent. Yeah but… nope.

Carey Mulligan in "Drive" (2011)
Character Played: Latina. Just have dark hair and get a tan.

Jake Gyllenhaal in"Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" (2010)
Character Played: Persian (Middle Eastern, namely Iran). Fictional character, FROM PERSIA.

The cast of the "The Last Airbender" (2010)
Characters Played: Katara, Sokka and the Water Tribe are Native American. Aang is Asian.
Casts' Background: All white except for the villains. They cast people of color in those roles because of course they did.

Jim Sturgess in"21" (2008)
Character Played: Chinese, like the whole team depicted in the movie.  Everyone knows there are not enough Chinese people around willing to be in a movie, even as extras.

Angelina Jolie in "A Mighty Heart" (2007)
Character: Afro-Cuban. Angelina is beautiful but so not Cuban.

Jennifer Connelly in "A Beautiful Mind" (2001)
Character Played: Salvadorian. And I can’t.

Meryl Streep in "The House of Spirits" (1993)
Character Played: Chilean. It’s the 90’s, and Streep is brilliant. Still.

Fisher Stevens as Ben Jabituya in "Short Circuit" (1986)
Character Played: Indian. No one said a thing. The makeup was horrendous.


Laurence Olivier in "Othello" (1965) by Shakespeare.
Character Played: Othello was a Moor, which means he was a dark-skinned / Black man. So, Olivier wore blackface

Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleopatra" (1963)
Character Played: Macedonian with African roots

Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)
Character Played: Japanese.

Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" (1961)
Character Played: Maria is Puerto Rican.

John Wayne in "The Conqueror" (1956)
Character Played: Genghis Khan, Mongol born in Mongolia.

Marlon Brando in "The Teahouse of the August Moon" (1956)
Character Played: Japanese

Yul Brynner in "The King and I" (1956)
Character Played: Siamese / Asian.

Katherine Hepburn in "Dragon Seed" (1944)
Character Played: Chinese.

Paul Muni and Luise Rainer in: "The Good Earth" (1937)
Character Played: Chinese farmers in China.

Boris Karloff in "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932)
Character Played: Chinese.

It's because being White is the default. and when you stray from the default, you get blowback. It's time everyone opened themselves up to more variety in movies, comics, plays and shows. It takes all of us to make a society and everyone has something to offer. Look at what's familiar to you, and flip it to what's not. It makes for interesting head games.

All of this happened. So the next time someone spouts off about Black people taking the roles of others when they shouldn’t, have this list handy. If there are any more circumstances you know of, list them in the comments!

Last modified on Friday, 05 July 2019 11:00
Patricia Gaines

Patricia Gaines aka Deecoily is the founder and creator of Nappturality in 2002, the beginning of the natural hair movement. Since 2000 she has been blogging on all things natural hair, Black culture and politics.

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