The One About… Just Like Halee Berry…

…and you look like Mary Tyler Moore…

Apologies to Weezer fans out there, but I’m resurfacing after a very busy (and semi-productive) few months because something has caught my eye – specifcally, the casting of Hailee Berry, the young star of “black-ish” and its spinoff series “young-ish,” to be Ariel in the live action remake of “The Little Mermaid.”

Oy, talk about asking for trouble. People were upset that Disney cast against design with this choice. So, of course, the company released a statement defending the casting choice.

Yes. The original author of ‘The Little Mermaid’ was Danish. Ariel…is a mermaid. She lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can legit swim wherever she wants (even though that often upsets King Triton, absolute zaddy). But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Ariel, too, is Danish. Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black. Ariel can sneak up to the surface at any time with her pals Scuttle and the *ahem* Jamaican crab Sebastian (sorry, Flounder!) and keep that bronze base tight. Black Danish people, and thus mer-folk, can also *genetically* (!!!) have red hair. But spoiler alert – bring it back to the top – the character of Ariel is a work of fiction. So after all this is said and done, and you still cannot get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly-talented, gorgeous Halle Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that it is because she “doesn’t look like the cartoon one”, oh boy, do I have some news for you…about you. 

@Freeform (Instagram)

That statement is, at best, inelegant. So much so that Freeform deleted it shortly afterward – but not before screenshots of it were posted and reported on elsewhere. What I really take issue with is the tone of that post. Disney did not have to defend the decision. It’s made. Think of how many other casting decisions have been criticized by fans, only to turn out to be wildly successful (a good example – Daniel Craig as James Bond).

Instead of being confident in their choice and staying above the fray, this statement is so defensive and so insulting that it speaks to insecurities on the part of someone inside the organization. The failure to remember not to talk down to the audience is stunning.

Casting a different sort of actress – white, black, red, purple, green, whatever – in the role is, at best, an artistic choice, and at worse, pandering. But as people have pointed out, it’s their IP – they can do what they want.

I know as an author I have had people suggest to me that I change certain characters in my young adult manuscript to fit different identity groups. It’s problematic – I want to go nowhere near any identity politics in my stories. My IP, my choices. And the same holds true here.

I was kind of looking forward to the new version. As I’ve posted elsewhere on social media, Ms. Berry has pulled off being “black-ish” and “young-ish.” I figure “Dan-ish” is totally in her acting range. But if people who control the megaphone at Disney are going to continue to insult the intelligence of its fans in statements like this, I’m going to take a pass.

Besides, for me, the Little Mermaid will always be Sherri Stoner, the actress and writer who was the live-action model for Ariel.

About D. G. Speirs

D.G. Speirs is a storyteller, novelist and voice actor living in Florida. He keeps searching for better stories to tell, even if he has to make them up himself. His latest novel, THE AGENCY, is now available on
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