With the internet’s uproar over the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel in the upcoming live adaptation of The Little Mermaid from Disney, I wanted to take a moment to look back on the classic story as it was told before Disney got their hands on it and made it an American classic animated movie. The Disney version is an adaptation which is untruthful to the original.
THE ORIGINAL TALE
Originally written by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Mermaid tells the story of a young mermaid girl who decides she wants to leave the sea and live with a human soul on land. When the mermaid turns fifteen-years-old, she is permitted to visit the surface and view the human world. The little mermaid’s five older sisters had always returned explaining the wonders of the human world. When it was finally the little mermaid’s turn she was able to witness the celebration of a young prince’s birthday. She fell in love with the prince at first sight. Later, a storm comes through which wrecks the ship. She saves the prince’s life by carrying him ashore but the prince never once sees the little mermaid.
She returns to the sea with love in her heart, hoping that one day she will join the prince on land. When she asks her grandmother about humans she learns that they have a life-span of about one 100 years (whereas mermaids have a lifespan of about 300 years). The only other difference is that when humans die, their eternal souls go to heaven and mermaids simply turn to sea foam—ceasing to exist.
The little mermaid goes to a sea witch in the dangerous depths to ask for legs and a human soul. The sea witch offers her a potion in exchange for the mermaid’s tongue and voice. This potion would make the mermaid feel as if she were being impaled by a sword, but it would give her legs and the ability to dance better than any human ever to live. In addition to this, it would feel as if she were walking on sharpened knives (causing constant pain) and they would continuously bleed. However, this potion did not give the little mermaid a human soul. To obtain this she would need to marry the prince, which would make a part of his soul flow into her. If this does not happen and the prince marries someone else, she would die of a broken heart the very next day and dissolve into sea foam.
The little mermaid takes the potion to the shore where the prince finds her. Enamored by her beauty, he invites the mermaid to live in the castle with him. He loves to watch as the little mermaid dances so she dances for him often (despite being in excruciating pain with every step). They gain a strong bond and the little mermaid becomes his companion easily. However, the prince’s parents have arranged a marriage between him and the neighboring kingdom’s princess. The prince tells the little mermaid that he will not be wed with this princess, as he does not love her. He goes on to say that he can only love a young woman from the temple, who he believes to have saved him from the shipwreck. This temple woman, however, turns out to be the princess that the parents have arranged his marriage to (she had been sent there gain an education).
After their marriage, the little mermaid’s heart breaks. She thinks of all that she has sacrificed and of all the pain she has endured for the prince. She despairs, thinking of the death that awaits her. That night, her sisters visit her on the surface. They were bald because they had traded their beautiful hair to the sea witch for a magical knife. This knife would save the life of the little mermaid if she used it to kill the prince. Spilling his blood on her legs will give her back her tail, relieving the pain in her legs and allowing her to return to the ocean and live out her 300 years.
When she approaches the newly wed prince in his sleep, however, she feels that she cannot kill him. Just as dawn breaks, she hurls herself into the sea with the knife and dissolves. She does not cease to exist though. Instead she can feel the warm sun on her as her spirit rises into the air, greeted by other daughters of the sea like herself. They explain to her that because she was selfless in life she had been granted the opportunity to gain her own soul and ascend into Heaven. To access God’s Kingdom she would have to 300 years of good deeds for mankind.
I don’t know much about Halle Bailey except for what word-of-mouth has told me. The consensus seems to be that she is a wonderful choice for Ariel based on her talents. I believe that she will do justice to the role given that information. Many people have taken to social media to exclaim their disbelief and outrage that Disney would cast a black actress to portray the mermaid, forgetting that The Little Mermaid is a fictional story and that ethnicity is not what determines the ability to portray a character well.
Many claim by casting a black actress to play Ariel that Disney is not being true to the original. However, as I have already explained, the Disney version itself is not true to the original tale of The Little Mermaid. Currently there are issues in this world that deserve a lot of attention (homelessness, world hunger, climate change, pollution, LGBTQIA+ rights, equal pay, etc.) The ethnicity of a fictional character should not be one of them.
The fact that this is even a topic that needs to be discussed is outrageous to me.