Over the years, Hollywood, and other forms of entertainment like Youtube, have had an increasing acceptance, presence, and outspoken support of diversity. This has arguably led to an increase in diverse casting in tv shows, movies, and so on. Many people have seen this increasing acceptance of diversity as a positive move, but there are others that have seen it as a negative one.
Some of those in the latter category believe that most companies or people who openly support a more diverse environment are only doing so for show. That a business’s support is a publicity move solely made to gain public support and money, which is a term known as “woke-washing.” This article will provide evidence that that’s not true.
especially : the inclusion of people of different races (see RACE entry 1 sense 1a), cultures, etc. in a group or organization.” This second definition is what this article is covering.
Different cultures can mean many things, including different groups of people and their way of life. Ie their behaviors, beliefs, values, language, practices, and so on. Cultures aren’t just limited to race; members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities have their own cultures as well.
One recent example of diversity in entertainment comes from Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel in Disney’s 2023 remake of the 1989 film, The Little Mermaid, which is itself based on the 1837 Danish fairytale of the same name. Ariel is the lead character in the 1989 movie and, in that film, Ariel was white. There is some debate that she may have been white in the original 1837 Danish fairytale, as well.
Unlike any of the Little Mermaid’s previous iterations, the Ariel in the upcoming 2023 remake is black. Bailey is making history as the first black actress to be cast as Ariel. This new casting change has been met with much praise, particularly with young black girls.
Ariel’s new casting has also caused much outrage, with one now-banned Twitter user by the name of Jesse (Gesi) Moriarty Erhard going so far as to use AI to change Bailey’s skin tone to white as a way of “fixing” the new Ariel. In their initial post, the user wrote, “It’s over for wokecells.”
“Woke” is a term originating in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) and, according to woke Meaning & Origin | Slang by Dictionary.com, it “[...] starts emerging in Black English by at least the 1940s.” The term means to be conscious or alert of racial discrimination and social justice. It has since evolved to mean being aware and well-informed of, and acting on, general social or progressive issues like racism, sexism, ableism, and so on. Some conservatives online and beyond have used the term in a derogatory way to mock those who support progressive issues.
Some critics of Bailey’s casting as Ariel argue that it was only done for publicity’s sake. The answer is, simply put, no. According to the article, Here’s Why the Little Mermaid Is Now Black and not White, Rob Marshall, the remake’s director, is quoted as saying, “After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role.”
According to the article, Director Rob Marshall Recalls How Halle Bailey’s First ‘The Little Mermaid’ Audition Made Him Cry, Marshall was reportedly so moved by Bailey's performance of one of the movie’s most famous songs, Part of Your World, that he cried. The article quote him as saying: “I couldn’t believe the depth and the truth and the simplicity and passion she brought to the song. It was just so moving.”
So, based on the evidence so far, Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel for her innate abilities as an actor and singer, not her race. It’s worth noting that Disney’s company policy states the following: “We are committed to diverse, inclusive casting. For every role, please submit qualified performers, without regard to disability, gender, race and ethnicity, age, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis prohibited by law.” More information on Disney’s inclusive policies can be found at Diversity & Inclusion - Disney Social Responsibility.
Some who are against Ariel’s new casting change believe that Disney is not being faithful to the original Little Mermaid fairytale, which does feature a quote saying, “[...] her [Ariel’s] skin was as clear and delicate as a rose-leaf, and her eyes as blue as the deepest sea [...]”. The story’s cover art depicts Ariel as white.
However, it is also worth noting that the original story did not feature a name for the main character or her movie counterpart’s iconic red hair. Both were added to the 1989 movie. Fairy Tales in general don’t have complex characters because they weren’t focused on that; the characters were made as vehicles to teach a moral lesson. Or, in the case of The Little Mermaid, moral lessons.
There are many, many interpretations for the moral of the original story. According to the article, Moral - The Little Mermaid, one of the main messages of the Little Mermaid is being careful what you wish for.
The article also states that the original fairy tale may have encouraged women to “hold their tongues”. It may have also been used to teach women the importance of self-sacrifice. The end of the original story shows Ariel being rewarded for her selfless behavior (and, arguably, being punished for her rebellious nature?) when she chooses not to kill her prince, which she was encouraged to do by her sisters so she could become a mermaid again and return to the sea.
In the original’s ending, Ariel never gets together with the prince because he rejects her for another woman. Her reward for her selfless behavior is becoming a sea-foam translucent being with the promise of eventually being able to ascend to Heaven in 300 years.
Some critics argue that the original story is a metaphor for the unrequited gay love of the original’s possibly gay or bisexual author, Hans Christoff Anderson. According to the article, Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid Is Really About Gay Love, Anderson, who could be seen as Ariel herself, exchanged letters with his close friend Edvard Collins, who could be seen as the prince.
In real life, Collins ultimately rejected Anderson in favor of marrying a woman. The aforementioned article states that, “[‘]The Little Mermaid[‘] was written the same year that Collin announced his engagement to a woman.”
In this interpretation of the original Little Mermaid story, the ending ould be seen as a way for Anderson to justify and reward himself for his choice to suffer instead of acting on his feelings. But, according to Independent Online Edition > Features, he did eventually end up in a relationship with a young duke named Carl Alexander. According to The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, he is also speculated to have loved a woman named Riborg Voigt, who was another unrequited love of his.
In a way, both the 1989 version and the upcoming 2023 version of The Little Mermaid present the exact opposite morals of the original. They reward Ariel’s rebellious behavior by giving her her lover and a life in both land and sea, showing the story has naturally evolved to be more progressive than the original. So, casting a black lead could be seen as a natural progression in and of itself.
Another recent example of diversity in entertainment is the gender transition of Youtuber (“Youtuber” is shorthand for someone who makes a living making Youtube videos) Chris Tyson. On April 5, Tyson, friend and co-star of American Youtube star and philanthropist Jimmy Donaldson aka “Mr. Beast”, announced that they were undergoing Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
According to Transgender Hormone Replacement Therapy: Benefits And Risks, HRT, also known as feminizing hormones, is a form of hormone therapy that is used to “[...] help transgender people transition to the gender they identify with.”
Those who identify as transgender (male, female, or otherwise) don’t see themselves as the gender they were assigned to, or registered as, at birth. Tyson, for example, was registered as and previously identified himself as a man but, as of this April, they now identify as a woman.
The term transgender was coined in 1965 by psychiatrist John F. Olivan in his book, Sexual Hygiene and Pathology: a Manual for the Physician and the Professions. But, according to the article, Trans People Have Existed For Thousands Of Years And Other Things You Should Know About Trans People, there is evidence to suggest that people who identify as trans have existed long before then.
Up until 2012, the term was officially classified as a mental disorder under the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
People who transition may choose to change their birth name, the way they dress, and the type of pronouns (he, she, they, etc.) that they use to refer to themselves. Tyson has stated they use any pronoun, so they can be referred to as he, she, they, and so on.
On April 13, Donaldson made a tweet announcing his support of Tyson’s transition:
Yeah, this is getting absurd. Chris isn’t my “nightmare” he’s my fucken friend and things are fine. All this transphobia is starting to piss me off
This support has caused controversy among many of Donaldson’s fans, some of whom believe his support for Tyson, as the Youtube video by Youtuber SunnyV2 claims, threatens his brand. Donaldson’s aforementioned tweet is a response to this video.
The nine-minute video, titled, Why Chris Will Soon be a Nightmare for Mr. Beast, tries to paint Tyson’s transition in a negative light. It claims that the transition will cost Donaldson viewers.
Does Donaldson’s support prove that said support was only for publicity? There is evidence to suggest that no, it does not.
For one thing, Donaldson’s tweet is very emotionally charged. When responding to controversy, corporations or businesses tend to give very formal, matter-of-fact, non-confrontational, and unemotional responses. The above tweet is none of those things.
For another thing, the tweet contains swearing. The online definition of swearing is, “the use of language regarded as coarse, blasphemous, or otherwise unacceptable in polite or formal speech in order to express anger or other strong emotion[.]”
Swearing, by its very nature, is an emotional response. A person or business who is that concerned with their public image would most likely not want to be caught swearing.
Did Donaldson’s support of Tyson ruin his brand? Not really. While there are many who deride him and Tyson’s transition, there are also many who support him. Trans youth who may watch Mr. Beast may find hope and a form of acceptance in Tyson’s transition, as it could give them positive representation and connect them to other members of their community so they feel less alone.
In conclusion, while diversity in entertainment can be emotionally charged, it is not solely done for publicity. Most of the people and businesses who have shown increase in and support for diversity do so out of a genuine desire to make good change. By increasing in quantity and acceptance, diversity allows new stories to be told and new voices to be heard. It may even allow people to feel represented and accepted in a less-than accepting world. And that is a very good thing.
Edited by: Mary May
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