Failure to acknowledge slavery in the Caribbean? The Little Mermaid controversy explained

The Little Mermaid caught between another controversy (Image via. Facebook/@DisneyTheLittleMermaid)
The Little Mermaid caught between another controversy (Image via. Facebook/@DisneyTheLittleMermaid)

Disney's new cinematic masterpiece The Little Mermaid has found itself in yet another controversy. A prominent diversity advocate Marcus Ryder accused the film of missing out on an opportunity to educate the youth about the horrors of slavery in the Caribbean. Ryder, who chairs the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, initially did celebrate the casting of Halle Bailey, a black actress, as Ariel.

However, the black campaigner recently expressed his displeasure regarding the film's excessive display of racial harmony. The Little Mermaid stars Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Noma Dumezweni, Art Malik, Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, and Awkwafina.

British campaigner accuses The Little Mermaid of incorrect depiction of racial harmony

After watching The Little Mermaid with his 6-year-old son, Marcus Ryder wrote a blog post expressing his displeasure about the movie. He said that since the film appeared to be set in the 1700s, there should have been some mention of African chattel slavery.

However, viewers saw Black and Caucasian people co-existing peacefully. He said that Disney missed a great opportunity to subtly teach children about the ugly truth.

His blog read that he doesn't think people are doing their children any favors by "pretending that slavery didn't exist." The post added that a fantastical story in such a time is the same as the letting of a love story between "Jew and Gentile in 1940 Germany" and ignoring the Jewish holocaust.

He admitted that he knew the film was a fantasy but still hoped they'd briefly mention something about the disturbing subject. The post went on to say that people owed it to their children to give them the "most amazing fantastical stories" to let their imaginations soar. He noted that they can't do so by "whitewashing" the difficult parts of history. Ryder said that they did so by embracing the rich history and empowering the children with the truth.

The blog further read:

"The sad reality is this great film left me concerned that Disney did not take seriously this very sensitive time and place which due to the atrocities that happened there should be treated very carefully – especially for impressionable children,"

In an interview with Deadline, he further emphasized this argument. He said that the whole thing pointed to how important representation was even though it wasn't fun being the target of backlash on Twitter.

He ended his statement by saying:

"I hope it demonstrates to film studios is that if you increase diversity you can get a loyal and committed audience that will defend your film vociferously from even the slightest perceived criticism, that is the type of audience engagement money simply cannot buy."

The Little Mermaid synopsis


The official synopsis of The Little Mermaid according to Disney reads:

“The Little Mermaid” is the beloved story of Ariel, a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure. The youngest of King Triton’s daughters and the most defiant, Ariel longs to find out more about the world beyond the sea and, while visiting the surface, falls for the dashing Prince Eric.

It further states:

"While mermaids are forbidden to interact with humans, Ariel must follow her heart. She makes a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, which gives her a chance to experience life on land but ultimately places her life – and her father’s crown – in jeopardy."

The film was released in the USA on May 26, 2023, and has collected more than $224.6 million worldwide.

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Edited by Madhur Dave