Ariel’s New Wave

In 2021 Disney will unveil a hotly anticipated live action remake of their animated classic, The Little Mermaid. Like all good remakes it will speak straight into the heart of a new generation and get them to fall in love with this story all over again.

The original animated film told the story of a mermaid who exists under the sea away from the human world but falls in love with a prince on land, and like all good Disney films this fairy tale of sorts has a happy ending

This original also lay the ground for a very particular depiction of Ariel, she was the beautiful red-haired mermaid with porcelain skin, despite the setting of the story alluding to some exotic place no one ever challenged this image, until now. Disney unveiled a broad and deliberate step away to this character now being a young woman of colour and a brown skinned Disney princess. Ariel is no longer reserved for a certain type of girl she now reaches and relates to so many more. On this occasion and in this particular moment, the actress Halle Bailey will be the face of that change.

It’s been a long time coming to condition ourselves to realise that not all princesses of fairy tales have to look one way or the other, in the world of make believe why should the leading ladies not be from all walks of life, we’ve seen some different representation when the setting allows it;  Jasmine, swept away on a mighty carpet by Aladdin, or Mulan who dresses up as a male warrior to fight for her country, but what if when our princess arrived at the ball and the footmen opened the doors to that dazzling ballroom we saw something we were not expecting, perhaps a young Nigerian girl, or maybe she’s Vietnamese, or Native American – the possibilities now not only seem endless, but very possible.

There is nothing wrong with the original Ariel being alluded to as Caucasian or other princesses for that fact, but what went wrong was this ingrained idea that in order to stay commercially appealing we shouldn’t stray too far from the default mould.

When Ariel begins to pine after her Prince she makes a deal with the sea witch Ursula to become a human but part of the deal is that she loses her voice. It seems that when someone else is pulling all the strings it’s hard to carve out a voice and identify for oneself. It’s refreshing to see a major Hollywood brand such as Disney promote a bold and progressive depiction of by-gone characters for a new generation. With Disney’s bold new groove lets hope that a princess of colour just becomes so very ordinary.

By Alicia Jones

Alicia previously studied film and now works freelance in TV drama production. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.