It's sad that we even have to argue about why Ariel from The Little Mermaid would realistically have darker skin — especially when the entire movie is about a singing fish with a hoarding problem who develops a fetish for two-legged creatures. But it's 2022, and racists love to be loud and wrong, so here we go.
Ariel has been portrayed in three Disney movies, on-ice performances, musicals, and several spinoff shows as a white mermaid since 1989, and that catalogue isn't going anywhere. It's still very watchable. However, to put a new spin on an already bursting canon, Disney decided to cast a new face as our fave fish out of water: Halle Bailey.
And yes, Halle is Black. And yes, it is 2022, which unfortunately means that a bunch of racists have momentarily stopped their wailing about the casting of Black people in other fantastical lore and diverted their attention to The Little Mermaid.
You see, this isn't the first time a Black person has been cast in a role designated as white by people who have nothing to do with casting, directing, or creating the story.
Most recently, Afro Puerto Rican actor Ismael Cruz Córdova experienced a flurry of trolls condemning his casting in Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, including high-profile voices like Elon Musk, who tweeted: "Tolkien is turning in his grave."
Ismael is joined by Star Wars actors Moses Ingram and John Boyega, who both faced racist direct messages and threats for entering the franchise in their own skin.
Likewise, if you step away from Disney-owned labels, you'll still find hatred spewed at other popular (and largely white) shows like House of Dragon, the awaited Game of Thrones prequel, which dared to cast Steve Toussaint, a Black man, as Lord Corlys Velaryon.
“It seems to be very hard for people to swallow,” Toussaint told Men’s Health. “They are happy with a dragon flying. They’re happy with white hair and violet-colored eyes, but a rich Black guy? That’s beyond the pale.”
Now we have 22-year-old Halle, whose reprisal of The Little Mermaid resulted in the #NotMyAriel hashtag, racist remarks, a sudden wave of redhead purists, and hatred personified online. But the role of a mermaid comes with context that some of the other actors' character backgrounds didn't include...
...Even if we ignore the seemingly obvious fact that anyone of any race can play a mermaid whose skin color has no effect on the storyline, naysayers are still scientifically wrong when trying to reason why Ariel should be white — because, realistically, darker skin makes biological sense.
To learn about fish who swim away from human eyes, I reached out to marine biologist and National Museum of Natural History curator Karen Osborn, whose studies include a dive into how a fish's skin, scales, and surface help them survive.
I also believe Osborn to be one of the most patient and good-humored marine biologists on the planet simply because she was willing to answer questions about creatures that don't exist for 30-plus minutes.
When discussing the colors of fish and where in the sea level one might find them, Osborn told BuzzFeed: "As you move through the water column — as you dive deeper and deeper — right at the surface, a lot of things are blue, because you blend in with the sky behind you for predators that are down below looking up. And then you have a bunch of mirrored animals, so they just reflect whatever's around them and that's a good camouflage in shallow water."
"As you get deeper," Osborn said, "you see animals that are pigmented or deep red [because] there's hardly any red light in the deep see, so being red is effectively being black. Then you see lots of brown fish and lots of black fish and lots of ultra-black fish."
If we were to suspend reality and act as if mermaids exist, it would be at this time that I'd like to point out that the half-human creatures would swim in the deep ocean, away from human eyes and fishing gear. Otherwise, how else would they have evaded us for so long?
Osborn is particularly interested by ultra-black fish, and shared that being black in color is advantageous for both predators and prey in the deep sea because the color absorbs light. "Being black in the deep sea is a really good camouflage, because once you get below 300 meters, it gets really dark and there are a lot of organisms down there that produce light — about 86% of animals in the deep ocean [are bioluminescent], and a lot of that is used to look for prey," she told BuzzFeed.
"So if you absorb all the light that hits you and the background behind you is black, then you blend in really well," Osborn said. "But if you reflect back some of that light, then whoever is making that light and searching for prey will see you."
And on the predator side, "Some deep see fish have bioluminescent lures, like the anglerfish. They have this lure that hangs out in front of self and animals are attracted to it and come in to see what that light is, and they get gobbled up," she said.
"If you're trying to attract something in like that, you don't want to be obvious. ... They want to be able to hang out a light to attract prey, but they don't want that light to light them up. So if the light disappears into their skin? No problem."