- I. Am. Progressive.
In a world where so many people are afraid to voice their opinions, I will whole-heartedly follow through what Disney has instilled within me throughout the years of my growing up. To speak my truth and to stand up for what I believe in.
When Black Panther was released in cinemas back in 2017, I was in the front row clapping and cheering on the cast and the marvellous introduction to the MCU. When the most recent Aladdin live-action adaption was released, I was there and relieved down to my core seeing how Disney tried to stay true to the characters through representation and important similarity portrayals in looks to enhance the culture background so rich within the story. Beauty & the Beast is my favourite Disney classic and fairytale of all time – with Belle therefore taking the throne as my favourite princess. When Emma Watson portrayed her in the enchanting 2017 live-action version of my favourite film, I once again was entirely enthralled and swaddled in the bubble-wrap of relief that my favourite princess was still obviously recognisable and not lost to the cracks in the foundations of our modern, artistic spiderweb of a world.
But here’s the catch. I have grown up with Disney. My heart has physically sometimes felt like it was aching in my chest with how much overflowing love I had stemming from Walt and his origin story right up to the present day. It was always on my bucket-list to visit one of the theme parks and last year for my 21st birthday, I celebrated the oncoming wave of adulthood in the grounds of Disneyland surrounded by the characters from my inspirational childhood. I had managed to finally save up enough money to afford myself a visit and it was honestly, truthfully and completely, the most magical day of my life so far. It did not disappoint – it had delivered what Disney had always promised me – true magic. I felt like I belonged.
Controversially however, what did disappoint me was the recent announcement of Halle Bailey cast to portray the infamous red-headed mermaid princess ‘Ariel’ in the up-coming and highly anticipated (by me) remake and live-action adaption of The Little Mermaid.
Why you might ask?
Well, PLEASE let me explain. Without judgement. I am doing what Disney taught me, after all.
I would like to declare that I have nothing against Bailey. I admire her.
My problem stems from the fact that I, myself, am a natural red-headed, pale-skinned and blue eyed girl who grew up loving Disney whilst being caught the immense whirlpool that was name-calling and bullying because of the thing that made me stand out from the crowds and most unique. My red hair. Grossly interpreted name-tags, long sleepless nights into soggy and salted pillowcases and endless boxes of hair dye throughout my teenage years later lead to the severe depression that comes hand-in-hand with a fully-fledged identity crisis. I was ashamed because I had red-hair and people teased me. I did not feel beautiful. I felt monstrous. I felt alone. We all know what I am talking about: “gingers have no souls” and etc was the abuse I received endlessly.
Like I previously stated, Belle was and still remains, my favourite Disney Princess of all time. But one of my main childhood memories was when out in the playground, my group of friends and I would want to play ‘princesses’ yet I was never allowed to play Belle because of my hair colour – and so I was always assigned Ariel. She was an identity I could latch onto. She was a figure who was cherished and beautified and strong and independent. And she was just like me.
The main source of my anger souring inside me and threatening to hit the earth like a dormant volcano tired of spectating the earth for too long without interaction is that, so far, each and every remake of the Disney classics, have actors who look like the original. A therefore true and cemented representation. Lily James as Cinderella, Emma Watson as Belle, Naomi Scott as Jasmie etc… So why not Ariel?
Disney claims to be ALWAYS be about inclusion and equality and fairness. So why is it that there are more POC existing throughout the entire Disney princess catalogue alone than red-heads? Do us flame heads not matter? We, too, rep a heavy history laden with burdens. We were scorned in deceit from superstitious myths, burned and punished for our differences, teased in the modern day through media and verbal tongues. I know multiple red-heads who have committed suicide from this low state of mind and feelings that we are not, and will never be, as excepted and warmed and welcomed as others. Does Disney think that it is true that we red-heads have no souls? Or are we just not as desirable enough that we are cast out from one of the only main red-headed princesses? I read online elsewhere, that I am not alone in these thoughts. A comment on a social media post voiced that the role of Ariel, if she had been cast how the classic character appears, would have been ‘brilliant representation for red-heads’ and I 100 percent agree. It is gutting to behold that one of the only relatable characters will now be taken away from me and wiped with an all-new identity almost. Yet, James and Watson were allowed because their hair was not the colour of flames? If Disney choose to remake The Princess and the Frog (another one of my highly respected favourites), all hell would wash ashore if a white Tiana was cast. It is not fair.
There is more than racism that exists. There is also prejudice. I want nothing more than to stand together on this earth. But when this news broke, I just had to get this rant off my chest. Now as a 21 year old red-headed, pale-skinned and blue-eyed woman; I still feel there is a lacking identity of people who look like me existing in the Hollywood and the media in general. And in a world so vocal about progression and striving for better things, I am sad to see that me, and fellows like me, will be losing our key image as it seems we do not matter.