Timing is everything. Twenty-two years ago Brandy appeared as Cinderella. Ten years ago, Disney gave us the first black Princess in Tiana from The Princess and The Frog. A little over a year ago we got Princess Shuri in Black Panther. We all know representation matters, and we want our black girls to see themselves more than what society believes they can be. Even with these being fairy’s tales, it provides hope that allows little girls to dream. Brandy as Cinderella showed little girls they to can go to a ball and have their dreams come true. Tiana showed little girls that if you have a dream, follow it even if you see no one else around you doing it. Princess Shuri showed little girls that STEM is cool and they too could be a scientist. Now blacks girls will see themselves as another iconic princess with The Little Mermaid.
Disney announced that 19-year-old actress Halle Bailey would be cast as The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid is a popular Disney story because it tells the story of a rebellious mermaid who is desperate to escape her constrained life under the sea to live above the water with humans. This is important because the story of The Little Mermaid is a story of many black girls struggling to escape the constraints of society, which often tries to tell them their limits. As an elementary school principal, I have a school full of little black girls who need to see more representation in movies and TV of themselves being strong and overcoming what amounts to oppression.
The casting of the black Ariel hits on so many levels for young black girls. It destroys the stereotype of black girls and water and getting their hair wet. Here you have a black girl playing a mermaid living in the water. Halle Bailey typically wears her hair in locks. It is possibly Disney could take the route of allowing full blackness on display and casting her wearing her locs. Little black girls will now see a black girl as a love interest and love interest in the right way, not because of her body or what she can do, but who she is as a person and her natural beauty. This will be the first time the Disney studio cast a black woman in a role traditionally held by a white woman.
The rise of another black Princess is powerful for little black girls because they see themselves as regal bearing, but also it now shows their friends they are regal bearing. The talk is always about what representation does for the group being represented, but it also inspires the group not being presented. Ever since Halle Bailey was cast in the iconic role, the hatred and bigotry also followed the joy and celebration. The hashtag #NotMyAriel is a reminder of why the role of a black Princess is important and why their needs to be more. The same hatred behind those typing and using #NotMyAriel is the same ones that will pay to see in concert and listen to Cardi B and Nikki Minaj. As long as women of color are displayed in that light, it’s okay. But as soon as they ascend to something higher or step into their space, it’s a problem.
I hope this will be the new inspiration for black girls like my daughter and my students who will grow up and know about Ariel being black and not white. They will know about Princess Shuri being a black warrior princess who was also highly intelligent. They will even know about a little black girl from New Orleans who had a dream that no one else believed in. Those black girls will watch and learn that sometimes the only person that needs to believe in you is you.
The fact that many white people can believe that race can be exclusive to a mythical creature is idiotic, but honestly, it makes sense because for years they grew up looking for validation in these fictional white characters. To all you behind the #NotMyAriel movement, you can now sit back while my daughter and the little black girls in my school get their validation and marvel in their beautiful black Princess. #NotJustYourAriel.