The poster of “The Little Mermaid” is shown above.
/Photography extracted from DISNEY
Recently, Walt Disney Company released a live-action movie adaptation of the animation “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey, who is African American selected to play the main character Ariel, and it caused controversy in the Internet community since July 4th. As Ariel has a big fan base, the public reacted violently. Since “The Little Mermaid” was originally portrayed as a white woman with red hair, criticism claimed that casting Halle Bailey was “Blackwashing.” This phenomenon is related to Political Correctness (PC) movement. The PC movement is a social movement that does not discriminate against people based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and disability in language or behavior. For example, the view that black or yellow people are inferior to white people should not be said and regarded as harmful to society. It quickly received positive responses from the United States (U.S.), a representative country that values diversity and coexistence, and quickly spread to the world. This is why the trend-sensitive content industry has been scrambling to pursue political correctness in dramas, movies, games, and cartoons over the past few years. The so-called “blackwashing,” which unconditionally casts black actors in works, has received a great response from some people. On the other hand, the number of consumers complaining of considerable fatigue has also surged in the meantime. As blackwashing is quickly becoming a hot topic due to its controversial characteristic, the Dongguk Post examined it in detail.
The presence of black protagonists grew as times passed by
Blackwashing is more of a neologism. It means that a black actor plays a character originally set as a white person. This trend has emerged recently. Whitewashing, which is the comparable term, refers to white actors playing characters of color, such as black people or Asian. At first, the commercial film industry, which produces box office hits, basically has no choice but to consider the primary consumer. As a result, the story is centered on the white middle class, and if it is a story about people of color, the character’s race was changed by using a popular white actor. Hollywood chose a roundabout way to avoid the growing criticism of whitewashing. Races were cast as they were; however, the characters were described as completely white in another way. For this reason, whitewashing has expanded to a wide range of words ranging from white characters to whitening characters’ personalities and behavioral patterns in the narrow sense of casting white actors for characters of color. Since then, as the demand for Asian, or other ethnic characters increased, the film industry has featured Asian characters accordingly. As the overall social atmosphere has become more caring for minorities, reactions to these characters of color have also diversified. Contrary to whitewashing, black actors are often cast as white characters in the original. Among them, Nick Fury in “Avengers” and Will Smith in “I Am Legend” received favorable reviews. On the contrary, “The Little Mermaid” lost the persuasive power of black casting in that Denmark was the background of the story, and more people responded that she was swept away by the social atmosphere and was cast excessively. The public said it was blackwashing, or black painting. Both words reverse “whitewashing,” which forces people of color to whiten.
The PC movement began with good intentions, but people’s opinions clash
Recently, as a lot of overseas contents are consumed through Over The Top (OTT) services in Korea, interest in it is also increasing. The Netflix drama “Bridgerton,” released on December 25th, 2020, was set in London, England, in the 1800s. However, actress Golda Rosheuvel, who plays the queen, was controversial since she was black. Moreover, Simon, the male lead, was also played by black actor Rege-Jean Page. Among Korean viewers, it was pointed out that “The Queen of England appears as a black person thus it hinders audience’s immersion,” and “In the original novel set in the drama, Simon is described as a white person with blue eyes, but the setting is too much.” It is difficult to avoid criticism if black people appear in work excessively, ignoring the background of the time or the purpose of the original. This drama intends to break the prejudice that black people are lower classes in white society; however, viewers responded, “There could be no black aristocrats in the times, so is not it a distortion of history?” The same goes for making animation into a movie. In July 2019, when Disney cast a black actor, Halle Bailey, in a live-action movie of the animation “The Little Mermaid,” a hashtag movement against it called “#not my ariel, #blackwashing” appeared. Many people even argued that Disney was overly PC conscious. However, Disney has gradually cast black actors in many other works, including “Pinocchio” and “Peter Pan.”
Meanwhile, as critical public opinion arose over the casting, Disney said it hoped to focus on the actor’s abilities and skills rather than the appearance of the existing character. Disney explained that the actor’s singing skills, emotional communication, and understanding of the characters were excellent, and those were the reasons they were be able to cast them.
The negative comments were not because black people played a major role or not because they denied racist practices, but because they did not want their existing images of characters or stories to be overlaid. However, some people advocate this move. They believed that consumers could increase racial visibility by encountering more diverse races on the screen, and deeper and more meaningful descriptions of characters are possible. The progressive movement of Western popular culture, including Disney, continues to attempt such movement with this logic. Fans who support Disney’s move say they can break existing prejudices such as “Princess is White.” By appearing in movies, various races can project “PC attention” into the work. Disney also warned to racists through its video streaming service Disney Plus in 2020. The warning says, “The stereotypes in the work were wrong then and are still wrong.”
Everyone has a different opinion. Nevertheless, the evident fact is that there is a bound to be a limit to black people replacing just white characters. Skin color should not be the evaluation standard for any distinction. However, it is a clear fact that we must admit that differences exist and are not the same between black and white. Possibly we need a unique, vivid story that recognizes the differences in different life conditions, which can eventually create a valuable story. For a movement that started with a good purpose to create value, would it not be possible to have more abundant potential in the future if we start with these differences, face each other, acknowledge each other, and try various efforts and many attempts?
Woo Ji-yeon firstname.lastname@example.org
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