The Disney Looking Glass
I love Princess Jasmine and I don’t hide it – I have the top, the mug, our VHS copy was run ragged and I saw the live action film 3 times, I love her. And the reason? She has a tiger and the attitude of a tigress; true sultanah material. But as the age old anecdote seems to go, I loved her because she looked like me. And with the casting of Halle Bailey as mermaid Ariel in the new live action version of The Little Mermaid, this phrase, this feeling seems to have been provoked in countless people.
Mock up illustration of a ‘black Ariel’ – looks damn fine to me
And it’s true, that people of colour often have a certain gravitational pull towards Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana and Moana. Yes, that’s it. 5 princess to represent millions of coloured people, a large sum of those being hopeful kids. Yes, there are 7 white princess which some may argue is only 2 more but, its 2 more to represent significantly less races.
And that’s what this is all about, right? Race. Let’s not shy away from it. Because why is the casting of a black Ariel such a terrible thing? Sure it strays away from the original, but I’m sure we’re all glad Disney decided not to leave in the bit about Ariel promising to trade her life for the hopes the Prince would fall in love with her, or the missing detail that it would feel like walking on shards of glass when she had human legs…
“the pinnacle of celebration for this evolutionary culture…”
We refer to the Disney cartoon as the ‘original’ even though it’s one of many in a long line of reproductions, but what is so great is that we have adapted this and so many other stories for the right audiences, in this case children. Maybe it’s just me, but my generation seems to be celebrating diversity and culture inclusivity more and more and are proud of what we’re cultivating. And for me, this casting seems to be the pinnacle of celebration for this evolutionary culture we’re developing.
I saw an Instagram comment made about this saying how Ariel was hers to look up to because like Ariel, she had (roughly quoted) “ghostly skin and red hair” and whilst yes, Ariel was the first princess with red hair, Snow White had been around for 51 years. Snow White. S N O W W H I T E. But what this woman may not have thought was, ‘what if I were black?’. Yes, we got Jasmine in ’92 but she isn’t Black. She’s not even Indian, she’s Arabic and yet there I was, fitting myself to the only princess who I felt some resemblance with. (FYI I would LOVE to see an Indian Disney princess). And there were all the other Black girls and boys having to wait until 2009 for someone who looked like them, meanwhile Disney had been fashioning Caucasian princesses for 71 years.
But why does it matter, especially if there are characters that represent you?
I remember looking up, with my sisters, at our Sony TV, standing there, a big black box with the screen like a mirror. And when someone put in a Disney VHS we would be glued to that screen. We were engaged and wrapped in the magic and dreams were fashioned right there in that moment. And that’s why it matters. Because what allows us to hope and encourages us to dream is seeing that others before us have done it, particularly when those people are like us. Whether that’s the colour of our skin, where we grew up or even the type of hair someone has.
Let’s not dampen those potential experiences for those to come because of our selfishness. Let’s let other be represented and celebrate our progress for equality. It’s 2019, after all.