I thought we had cleared this whole thing up last week when I explained, quite simply, succinctly and conclusively why Idris Elba can and should play James Bond. But no, once again the matter of racial integrity in fiction raises its Nazi salute. And this time it is even more ridiculous. Let me explain again.
There is a live action remake of the cartoon, The Little Mermaid, coming out soon. The titular character is to be played by someone talented, gifted and popular among the younger fans, who are the sort of demographic that should matter. They don’t seem to mind that she will have to wear a wig because the mermaid she plays, Ariel, has red hair.
The actress, Halle Bailey, has dark hair, being herself dark, as in a black girl.
First, let us take a minute to relish the name. Halle Bailey. What better name could an upcoming actress have than something that is half-exactly the same and half-almost the same as that of the trailblazing, iconic, celebrated, and legendary Halle Berry herself?
If I was named Halle Bailey, I would have dropped out of any school that did not have a performing arts programme to give me a shot.
An accountant named Halle Bailey would be an affront to the universe.
Back to focus. The Little Mermaid is a little specimen of a species of non-existent fish.
The deep ocean is full of some wildly improbable creatures. If you ever find the time, google the Angler Fish. You will regret it and blame me for putting into your mind a horror that cannot be unseen.
It’s not the only weird thing down there, but one thing we are sure does not exist in any of our oceans is mermaids.
They are purely fiction, imagined, cooked up by bored sailors and boast a physiognomy as follows: Their upper parts are human—they have human heads, arms, torsos and belly buttons— but beyond that there is just a fish tail.
Even the habitat that gave us the Angler Fish cannot host something so unrealistic.
Therefore, the argument that there are no Black mermaids and therefore, a Black girl cannot play a mermaid in a film is a mermaid of an argument, because it is only half true. There are no Black mermaids. But of course a Black girl can play one. Mermaids don’t exist and that is an actor’s job—to pretend to be things or people who don’t exist. And I have seen her pretend to be the totally-made up character of Sky Foster on the TV comedy Grown-ish. She is quite adept.
Blacklash, which unfortunately has become a thing, describes angry responses to the casting of black characters in roles previously assumed to be exclusively for white fiction, and it has been spreading around pop culture news since the announcement that Ms Bailey had landed the role.
We even had a hashtag on that hornets’ nest of hateration we call bitter twitter. #NotMyAriel, it said (in many cases preceded by the typical “I’m not racist but…”)
We should learn to ignore those people, except when we can be entertained by the artful ripostes that put them in their place, and in this case, they have been very satisfying. First of all Disney itself, the corporation that is making the movie, posted on Instagram: “Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black,” adding, “Black Danish people, and thus mer-folk, can also genetically (!!!) have red hair.”
Jodi Benson, the actor who voiced Ariel in the original cartoon, said as long as the actor has the voice to sing let her sing. “Let’s face it, I’m really, really old — and so when I’m singing Part of Your World, if you were to judge me on the way that I look on the outside...”
Before we get to the best part, historians have come out to join the debate, showing that the mermaid myth has existed in West Africa, India, China, and the Middle East and is not exclusively Caucasian.
The best part? Halle Berry herself chimed in, to tweet the little Halle thus: “In case you needed a reminder… Halles get it DONE. Congratulations on this amazing opportunity.”
In other news, where are they supposed to get a purple actress to play Ursula, the sea witch who was lavender in the cartoon?