Last week, the world went into uproar over the casting of the live-action adaptation of the Little Mermaid. To break it down into simple terms, the 1989 version saw Ariel (a mythological fish person) portrayed as a white female with red hair and the 2019 casting of Ariel sees Halle Bailey portraying said fish-girl as a black female with (probably) red hair – which is apparently too hard to believe.
Essentially, I think we need to work on what we do and don’t find believable.
Aside from being half human, half tuna fish, the fact is, Ariel’s ethnicity or genetic makeup plays absolutely no relevance to the film itself. She simply lives under the sea – with no geographical location specified. Although, if you really want to dig, the original story of the Little Mermaid takes place off the coast of Denmark.
But, apparently we’re all ignoring the fact that she had a pretty prominent American accent in the original anyway.
So, in honour of the wildly misplaced outrage, let’s take a second to think about some of the many instances in which an actors’ ethnicity played absolutely no relevance to their character – even when it was relevant to the story.
1. Emma Stone as an Asian-American Hawaiian in Aloha
After the film’s casting sparked many a debate, Stone herself said “I’ve learned on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is. It’s ignited a conversation that’s very important.”
2. Angelina Jolie as a French-Cuban in A Mighty Heart
Jolie played Mariane van Neyenhoff Pearl who handpicked her for the role.
3. Katharine Hepburn as a Japanese woman in Dragon Seed
4. Elizabeth Taylor as an Egyptian/Macedonian Greek in Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor earned herself the title role as Queen Cleopatra, despite being known for her fair-skin.
5. Laurence Olivier as an African in Othello
Spoiler alert, as an Englishman, that’s not Olivier’s natural skin tone.
6. Joseph Fiennes as an African-American in Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon
Fiennes played Michael Jackson who, when asked by Oprah about a white man portraying him said, “That’s the most ridiculous, horrifying story I’ve ever heard,” he told Oprah. “Why would I want a white child to play me? I’m a black American. I’m proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride in who I am and dignity.”
7. Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Persia, for those who don’t know, is what we now call Iran – where Gyllenhaal is definitely not from.
Let’s get something straight here, people, unless the role is directly related to a specific ethnicity or it calls for a race to be mentioned. The actors’ race. Does. Not. Matter. Especially when the character is a completely fictional creature that does not actually exist. Pipe down.