Why was there no backlash about 'The Little Mermaid's Prince Eric casting rumours?

Rumours were rife on Tuesday night that Disney's live-action remake of 'The Little Mermaid' had cast its Prince Eric in the form of Harry Styles. Reports now say that Styles was offered the role but turned it down. The initial reaction was a far-cry to #NotMyAriel which emerged when Halle Bailey was cast in the leading role.


When news emerged that singer-actress Halle Bailey, who with her sister forms R&B duo Chloe x Halle, had nabbed the starring role in Disney's live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, and will play the role of Ariel, the rebellious daughter of King Triton who longs to live on dry land, reaction was far from muted.

Some expressed delight at the casting choice. However, many expressed unhappiness; #NotMyAriel trended almost instantly.

Related: The Little Mermaid: Fans predict who'll play the role of Prince Eric 

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Director Rob Marshall said when describing the casting, that she was an ideal choice. "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."

And despite denials, the reason her casting didn't go down well with so many seems to come down to one factor: In Disney's 1989 animated film, Ariel is a Caucasian redhead, while Bailey is a woman of colour.

This isn't news to those who regularly monitor cultural conversations that emerge around film and television. You heard it when Zendaya was cast as MJ in Spider-Man: Homecoming, for example.

It seems impossible to ignore and more so now, especially with the reaction to the potential news that Styles had been cast. He fit what was expected. Just like the original animation.

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There are few tweets about childhoods being ruined - something that many bemoaned originally - with the idea of Styles as a prince. In fact, there were none upon a first search.

Given that The Little Mermaid deals with themes that are universal - it's a noticeable and great shame that the reaction isn't similar.

In fact, the backlash has so far only been geared one way.

It's clear that many pay lip service to what is an attempt to diversify what we see on screen but go the other way when this is actioned.

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We must do better.

Main photograph: @lostinela

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