UNITED STATES- An influential media diversity advocate has criticized The Little Mermaid for omitting to acknowledge slavery in the Caribbean.
British campaigner Marcus Ryder, who chairs the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, hailed Halle Bailey’s casting but criticised the film’s depiction of racial harmony.
Having watched the Disney remake with his six-year-old son, Ryder felt compelled to write a blog about the movie, saying it missed an opportunity to gently educate children.
Ryder said, “The Little Mermaid appears to be set in the 18th century at a time of African chattel slavery, but the fictional Caribbean islanders close to Atlantica live in a world free from human rights atrocities.”
“I do not think we do our children any favours by pretending that slavery didn’t exist,” he wrote in the blog, titled ‘Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Caribbean Slavery, and Telling the Truth to Children.’
“Setting the fantastical story in this time and place is literally the equivalent of setting a love story between Jew and Gentile in 1940 Germany and ignoring the Jewish holocaust.”
Although Ryder acknowledged that The Little Mermaid is fantasy and does not need to assiduously follow history, he argued that children are not well served by overlooking the past.
He said that Disney could have set the film in Haiti after it had overthrown the shackles of slavery, with Ariel meeting her prince against the backdrop of burgeoning racial harmony.
“We owe it to our children to give them the most amazing fantastical stories possible to help their imaginations grow,” he said. “We do not do this by ‘whitewashing’ out the difficult parts of our history. We do it by embracing our rich history and empowering them with the truth.”
On Twitter, Ryder posted about the blog, but received criticism from users who said The Little Mermaid should be treated like a fairy tale. In the aftermath of the viral tweet, he deleted it because it had been “widely misunderstood.”
On Twitter, Ryder clarified his remarks to say he enjoyed the film, praising its portrayal of Black beauty and its diversity on screen. However, he raised concerns about diversity behind the camera. The Little Mermaid was directed and written by Rob Marshall and David Magee, respectively.