Art featured by Tracy J. Lee for NPR
Hollywood remaking their old movies is not a new phenomenon. The animation films that are loved by millions have soon started to be filmed as live-action in recent years.
While casting the actors for them, it must be considered whether the nationality or race of a character plays a big part in the original story or not. If Mulan was to be portrayed by someone who is not Chinese, the movie would simply be ruined.
Meanwhile, in the story of Little Mermaid, we simply watch a girl who lives in the ocean. The race of Ariel does not have a significance for the film, thus even though in the original animation Ariel was white, the live action actress could very well be a black woman.
The news of Halle Bailey being chosen to play Ariel was met with a lot of joy as well as hatred. Why would a black woman play a red head white character? Would you cast a white woman to play Tiana? And so on…
No, they should definitely not cast a white woman to play Tiana. Then, how could Halle be Ariel? Well, other than the cultural insignificance, the plain answer would be the importance of representation. What is it? Why is it important?
Watching TV shows as a Turkish Muslim woman myself, I would feel disappointed when I could not see any other Muslim.
And if I were to come across with a Muslim, it would always be someone who did not care about religion. The script would be unrealistic. I could see that this person was not a Muslim in real life, that it was all just an act.
I would think to myself, is there no one who believes in Islam and is an actor? Is it that if you are a Muslim, you don’t have a place out there? Or that to become friends with others, you have to act like you don’t care about Islam that much? It bothered me a lot.
Later, I watched a show that represented my feelings as a Muslim woman so well that I teared up. One show. I thought this is it! I wanted to see something like this all my life. But then again, why weren’t there more shows like this out there?
You have no idea how important it was to see someone like me out there and to find out the actress was also Muslim. On the other side of the world, there was someone like me, someone who I could finally relate to and millions of people had watched it — they could understand better what it was like to be me.
Media affects humans. We see recipes, tricks, tutorials out there and we have the urge to try them out. We see a couple and we set them as our relationship goals. We see a commercial and we buy the item.
In addition to all of that, the part most of us don’t realize is we see characters and we learn from them. We see a new part of life, maybe ours. Seeing someone on screen and thinking wow, that feels similar to what I am going through or I did not know people like me could do this is just such an amazing feeling that I cannot explain it with words.
If it is well-crafted, with a strong plot, those who are privileged can judge their own behaviors towards minorities. The media has enough power to change opinions, to make us think.
When Little Mermaid comes out with the acting of Halle Bailey, no white person would think that they are underrepresented but on the other hand, a lot of black children will see a princess who looks like them. See, a black person can also be a princess! How amazing is that?
That’s why it’s so important to see strong women, Muslims, people from all over Asia, immigrants, black people, LGBTQ+ people, people who have been through assault or rape, people who have struggles with their families, people with mental disorders, people with all kinds of disabilities and everyone else I cannot fit in here on media.
We want them as they are in real life. Not the stereotypes others have in their minds. I believe the best way to avoid misrepresentation is to cast someone who can relate to the character they portray. Let a trans actor play a trans character, let a Muslim play a Muslim character. So that we know it’s honest. Those actors also know what it’s like to be in those shoes.
We want to see real people. So that everyone can understand that we exist, we are not as few as they believe. We are not some fun little extension to the main character. We are the main characters of our lives. We can be princes, princesses, warriors, survivors in our own lives and we deserve to see that being portrayed.