Tuesday, July 16, 2019

As Pretty As It Is, The New "Lion King" Leaves Little To The Imagination

Quick Q&A before we start:
Q:   Is "The Lion King" a fairy tale?
A:   No.
Q:   Then why is it on OUABlog? 
A:   Since Julie Taymor brought her culturally-aware adaptation to the Broadway stage, it's been retold using aspects of tradition, folklore and folktale.
Q:   How?
A:   The theatrical adaptation connects us to (South) African folklore, culture and storytelling, echoing traditional folktales, in a way the original film never did.
Q:   OK but isn't the subject here the new CG/live-action film, not the stage musical?
A:   Yes - and because cultural representation is a big aspect of this remake, we're doing our due diligence to make sure we don't overlook a new folktale-based connection.

So let's get into it:
When Things Get Real
The first wave of reviews are in for Disney's live-action Lion King and they are... not great. It's opening week (the film opens in regular theaters on Thursday July 18th) and the film has already made a mint, of course, but will it be the billion-dollar baby Disney is expecting? The trailer was one of THE most viewed trailers ever online, so it's clear that curiosity is high and people are very motivated to see it (aka spend their money). But the "such-good-CG-animation-it's-hard-to-tell-what's real-and-not" appears to be both its strength and its curse.

While it does look a lot like real animals (there will be generations of misinformation for National Geographic and Animal Planet to undo!) it's not quite real enough to find the sweet spot between realistic animal expressions and anthropomorphization. (Note: The Disneynature film, Born In China, is a perfect example of how careful filmmaking with live animal footage can be both emotive and unforgettable.) With just days before the general public gets to see what all the fuss is about, a lot of 'sneak peeks' have been released, trying to "hit them in the nostalgia" and entice folks toward the box office this weekend. But no matter how you frame it, the scenes look... well, lifeless. The leaked scenes look downright flat in comparison to the animated classic. What hand-drawn animation did so very well - brought a sense of humanity and impossible expressions and sentiments to wild animals, a sense that not only told an exciting story but sparked the imagination of children and adults everywhere, it would seem that this hyper-real CG approach cannot.

Disney Represents
"But that's OK", an enthusiastic group people are saying. "Look at what it has done!"

So what has it done?

Perhaps it has pushed the technical possibilities of CG animation further but not in a way audiences are really caring deeply about. (It's unlikely it will hold the same special place in young ones' hearts as Paddington 1 and 2 has managed to do.) What people are usually referring to, however, is the casting. It is a mostly black cast - African American people creating African characters - and that is wonderful to see. Even the musicians for the updated score show a much larger diversity in their number this time around. It seems most agree it's overdue and very important.

But it's not new.
Not by a long stretch - not for The Lion King.

Julie Taymor's vision for The Lion King on Broadway completely reworked the aesthetic of the animated film, and updated aspects of the story too. Instead of trying to replicate what the film did so well, it took the characters, revealed the real - and authentically cast - actors behind them and showed us who was telling the story. It was all about storytelling and the suspension of disbelief. Suddenly it didn't matter that there was a male lion in charge of the pride, because it became a human story, told through animals, just like a folktale. And boy did it resonate!

Beautifully conceived, staged, designed, acted, puppeteered and sung, and more, it was, is -over twenty years on stage and counting- live storytelling at it's best. It's outlasted all other Broadway shows and for good reasons. The experience is unlike any other - something people will often describe as "spiritual".
The first few minutes of that theatrical titan? Holy cats. Unforgettable. Giraffes, created by humans on stilts, strolling down the aisles. A rotating “gazelle wheel,” poetry in motion. An actress manipulating a wondrous rod-puppet cheetah creation, moving so that a feline licking its paw becomes a moment vividly recalled decades later. It was the stuff of dreams, and the highest sort of commercial art. 
(Michael Phillips for Chicago Tribune)
The Human Connection in The Lion King
The human heritage of ancient storytelling is echoed in the animals speaking, personalities overlaying the actors who wear animal masks almost as headpieces. As the audience watches the animals and the humans begin to blend together in their minds' eye, they become part of that storytelling.
Image result for lion king broadway
Taymor's vision and direction for the theatrical adaptation of The Lion King retold the same story as the film, yes, but she both adapted it for the medium in which it was told (the stage) and, very importantly, updated it (see below for the story and character modifications which have made a lasting a positive impact on the story) . The result was that it's a joyful celebration of life that stands on its own, not needing the original inspiration to validate it. It is its own, unique and separate experience and it's unforgettable.

Julie Taymor on the lasting legacy of The Lion King (emphasis in bold is ours):
Julie Taymor
“The characters in the animated film are so expressive and human,” she says, citing Jeremy Irons’s voicing of Scar, Simba’s villainous uncle. “I thought, ‘I’ll create this animal’s head to show the essence of who Scar is, but let his personality come through in the actor below the mask.’”

 Taymor was also keen to increase the presence and potency of female roles in The Lion King. She expanded the role of Rafiki, the shamanistic mandrill voiced by Robert Guillaume in the movie, making it a woman’s part and “the spiritual guide to the whole show.” She also buffed and toughened up the lioness Nala: “When you talk about lions, the females do all of it, including the hunt. So I threw out a lot of the soft stuff in the film and made Nala very strong. She’s got one of the best songs in the show, ‘Shadowland,’ which is about being a refugee, a subject that’s very topical right now.”
Indeed, for Taymor, a lifelong world traveler who has always integrated aspects of different cultures into her work, “The Lion King has lasted so long because it’s socially minded, and it has a sense of spirituality that connects with people all over. Everywhere I’ve been, there’s always something in the show that becomes distinctly political there.” 
At home, race is a particularly key factor. “You have to remember that 20 years ago, black people were mostly seen on television and movies as inner-city gangstas,” says Taymor. “And here we were, bringing Africa to the stage in this positive and powerful and beautiful way.” When tapped for The Lion King, Taymor says, she “told Tom and Peter I wasn’t going to cast white people in most of these roles. … This was way before Hamilton, before Obama. Lion King has given more presence to nonwhite performers than any show — as we now know, because many of them are now performing in Hamilton and in other shows.” (Source: Julie Taymor on The Lasting Legacy of The Lion King - Broadway Direct, Nov 2017)
The result is that the experience closes the distance between story and audience and makes the common humanity of the tale much more evident.  The actors bring the story, the audience brings their imagination - together it's a magic sweet spot.

Three Versions, Three Artforms? 
When the animated Lion King debuted, it wowed audiences with its stunning visuals, heart-stirring songs, and an epically presented setting. The impossibly-human expressions of the animals stirred hearts and made people care about the story. It was a new experience (at the time) to see animals in such an epic story (though animals as main characters in Disney films were common, a story on this scale with them was not), and audiences happily journeyed with them then relived the laughs and gasps on repeat when it entered their homes. It was animation as Art, telling a story in a way no other medium could. A live-action remake that does its best to replicate the original, without changing its form to accommodate a different medium (hyper-real CGI as opposed to hand-drawn) cannot hope to approach how unique the experience of the original was at the time.
On a conceptual level, (the 'live-action') “The Lion King” betrays the power of the hand-drawn artwork that once put the wonder into Disney animation from its earliest features. Favreau’s movie fails to grapple with how the unreality of the studio’s lush 2D artwork unlocked kids’ imagination and made it so much fun to suspend disbelief; the digital wizardry denies our minds the permission they need to dream. Julie Taymor’s award-winning Broadway adaptation is so transportive because it celebrates its artifice, not in spite of it. Favreau has likened the process of making this film to restoring an architectural landmark, but at the end of the day, he’s merely gentrified it. (David Ehrlich for Indiewire - emphasis in bold is ours)
The Power Of Nostalgia vs Imagination
But perhaps that's what the hype about the 'sound' is about. If you can, in fact, see the movie in a theater equipped to playback the full range of dolby+ surround-sound, then the vocal performances and songs might reach people in a new way, otherwise, they're relying on nostalgia being the driving force behind having people connect to - and like - the movie. It's certainly what the team keep talking about in their interviews - as if they know the visuals alone are not quite to par.
Nostalgia is not to be underestimated, of course, but the new film brings nothing fresh of lasting consequence to a now-tired story - one that was told better originally and also has a thrilling live experience as an option. In contrast, repeat visits to see The Lion King on stage make for a subtly-unique experience every time. With nothing new to say, creating a new and permanent place in people's hearts for the long term is less than likely. Perhaps listening to the soundtrack with an amazing sound system, with these new and powerful voices will create a much-needed new perspective on the story - which would be wonderful (we hope it does just that) - but then why have a whole new film? As Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune wrote:
"The new “Lion King” has every reason to exist in fiscal terms. It has no reason to exist as a movie we might take with us into our futures."
What Might Have Been
Tweet posted by @joamettegil
Once you hear the rumor that Julie Taymor approached Disney to direct the live-action (but turned down) one begins to wonder just what that film might have looked like. Perhaps, instead of a hyper-realistic CG film, it might have been a VR film, based on the idea behind the stage adaptation, with perhaps some blending of live-filmed performance with hyper-real CGI to echo the animalistic ancestral spirits invited to a traditional storyteller's fire.

Perhaps it might have been truly live-action with CG animation of the animals overlaid and intertwined as part of the story-telling, like @Joamettegil on Twitter suggested. (See pic on right.)

Either of these ideas has the potential to be breathtaking. Apart from avoiding the criticisms of hyper-real versus cartoon visuals, all the problems that come with trying to be 'too real' (and giving scientists and National Geographic a headache) are completely sidestepped, because it's clear it's not a lion story but a people story; one that you - the audience - can relate to. That could have been an AMAZING thing to see/experience! Thanks to a viewers' limited autonomy in VR, a slightly different experience for each viewer and viewing, would work to make the experience even more personal. In an era in which relevancy, representation, and authentic experiences that engage the imagination and connect with the viewer are very specific challenges, such an approach would have hit all those notes, and expanded story and legacy, still further.
Sure doing something unexpected would also have been a huge risk.

It may have been just what today's audience, stuck in the tug-of-war of "play-it-again-Disney-BUT-not-too-different-and-not-too-much-the-same" really need. 

Unfortunately, now we will never know.

Disney's "live-action" The Lion King comes to US theaters on July 18, 2019.



  • Let's Fact Check the Lion King by Naturalish - fun and light article, comparing some of the aspects of The Lion King to science (biology, ecology & species distribution - cool maps for the latter!) - great to share with kids, but with regard to the elephant graveyard myth, include this info from the University of Sussex: Research Shows Elephants "Remember" the Dead
  • New article published July 16, 2019, just as this article went live on OUABlog (not used for reference). This article acknowledges the stunning visuals created but also discusses how such an approach has brought a new set of unexpected problems. ‘The Lion King’ Review: Disney’s Circle of Lifelessness by Joe Morgenstern for The Wall Street Journal
Fanmade poster of the new Lion King 2019 by aliciamartin851 on deviantArt

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Obituary: Fairy Tale Scholar Prof. Bill Gray, Founding Director of Sussex Centre, Has Passed

Mourning Sand Dwarves in the Forest (China 2009) -photography by joeinchinatown
Professor Bill Gray (July 30, 1952 - April 8, 2019)

We are saddened to learn that William Gray, known as Professor Bill Gray, founder of the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy at the University of Chichester in 2009, considered one of the world's top fairy tale scholars, recently passed away on April 8th, 2019

"Bill’s work validated the importance of studying fantasy, which has a long yet often trivialised history in literature and folklore. His published scholarship used multiple perspectives to reveal the existential depth of fantasy and fairytales, and the rich intellectual substance in their study." (From an obituary in The Guardian, written by Donald Haase, published July 12, 2019)

Professor Gray was not only a scholar of fairy tale, fantasy and folklore, encouraging new thinking be applied to further studies in the field, but his interest and influence extended beyond academia as well. He put effort into making his knowledge, vision and enthusiasm for the field accessible to the public and himself available for the conversation. He's been a bridge between academic studies and pop culture, appearing in the media and making himself available to consult on theatrical projects (such as The Light Princess adaptation with Tori Amos for The National Theater in 2013), and was called by Universal Pictures to "serve as mythic and folklore advisor" for the blockbuster film Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).

The Sussex Centre is now called the Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction, so a quick reminder if you have been following "The Sussex Centre for Folklore" (for short) but are now seeing "Chichester Centre" on social media, be assured it's the same folks. The Sussex Centre/Chichester Centre is also known for the biannual scholarly journal Gramarye, of which Professor Gray was also Founding Editor in 2012 - a wonderful and continuously relevant journal which we highly recommended subscribing to.  We've included some recent covers at the end of the post which you can click to enlarge to see the content overview. (Do call Chichester Centre in the UK directly if there are problems subscribing from non-UK bases. The folks there are lovely and helpful.)

"The (Chichester) centre reflects (Bill's) vision for the study of fantasy and wonder on an international and interdisciplinary scale, as does its scholarly journal Gramarye, which he launched as founding editor in 2012. As a site for conferences, symposiums, lectures, exhibits, concerts and other public events, the centre has become a mecca for scholars and artists from the UK and abroad."
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012 Universal Pictures)
While Professor Gray's work in the field of fairy tale, folklore and speculative fiction can't easily be summarized, the obituary in the Guardian gives an overview which shows how important his work has been, and we recommend you click through to read it HERE.

And we have yet to look forward to more of his work:
World Treasure of Fairy Tales & Folklore
Compiled by Prof. William Gray (2016)
Bill’s transcultural approach informed his book Robert Louis Stevenson (2004), which elucidates the Scottish writer’s biography as a “literary geography”, reflecting the contexts in which Stevenson wrote, from Europe to the Pacific Islands, where he traded tales with the indigenous islanders. Bill’s forthcoming edition of Stevenson’s fables and fairytales will, for the first time, give access to all the author’s fantastic works in the order and form in which he intended them to be read.
We are so thankful for all his work and enthusiasm. Through Sussex Centre and Gramarye Professor Gray influenced Once Upon A Blog for the better. Though we never had personal interaction with him, we are grateful to all folks at the Chichester Center who followed his lead and engaged willingly in conversations about fairy tales, and gave social support to the fairy tale enthusiasts in our corner, over the past ten years. We have no doubt he will be very missed.

We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, and to his students, friends and colleagues.

Note: For those wishing to learn more about his work, please click on the image below to go to Professor Gray's website. It has a lot of wonderful information on his work in fairy tales as well as fantasy and includes links to his public writing, pieces in the press, interviews, a list of his books and other publications (with links where possible). The website now also includes a page dedicated to remembering Professor Gray. We recommend taking some time to read them.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Will Disney's New Little Mermaid Be Part Of Your World, Or Is She #NotMyAriel?

Art by Denver Balbaboco (click name for portfolio link)
IG: denvertakespics (see IG & image details at this link)
Halle Bailey is to be Disney's newest princess as Ariel in the upcoming Disney live-action "The Little Mermaid"
"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," said (Director Rob) Marshall. 
Exactly what Disney's live-action Little Mermaid needs to be - right?

Surprisingly Mer-ky Waters Stirred By Announcement
Artist: Alice X. Zhang
Halle Bailey as The Little Mermaid
(complete with red hair)
The announcement that black actress Halle Bailey (star of Grown·ish, half of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle) is set to star as Ariel in Disney's live-action The Little Mermaid has certainly polarized social media. While multitudes celebrated Disney supporting diversity in their live-action casting of a classic and beloved film, the #NotMyAriel hashtag took off in almost the same moment. In the too-long list of complaints, they appear to center around the change in look and image of a figure people have loved - and identified with - since they were kids. But that's kind of the point. People have seen themselves in Ariel for almost two generations, with the emphasis on "selves". When the disgruntled began to cite culture*, history, and even science (!) it became clear that these objections were actually outing a privileged and endemically racist viewpoint. For those watching, it should be noted that the #NotMyAriel reaction is not coming from kids. Kids across the board are responding with excitement. The disgruntled demographic is embarrassingly specific: 30yrs+ white women.

The "original Ariel", Jodi Benson, raised her voice on the matter too:

“I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters," (Benson) replied. "What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart, and their spirit, is what really counts."  
Benson talked about how channeling Ariel's inner spirit is how she herself has been able to step into the role over the years, despite getting older: 

"And the outside package — cause let’s face it, I’m really, really old — and so when I’m singing "Part of Your World," if you were to judge me on the way that I look on the outside, it might change the way that you interpret the song. But if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel. “We need to be storytellers," she concluded. "And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story.” (Source: combookmovie.com)

If it really comes down to "a certain look" that about puts it in a 
n̶u̶t̶shell and then to bed. (See what we did there? OK, sorry - moving on...) Unfortunately, if you look beyond the surface, it's easy to see that is only part of the issue here.

Doing our best to get all sides of the story, our Fairy Tale News Hounds spent a long time reading through multiple responses to the news on various social media outlets and were very glad to find that there are many white voices being raised in support of sharing - and representing - the magic they felt as five-year-olds with children of every color, especially those with dark skin.

One response in particular melted our hearts.
This is it:
 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
That was a bit of a roller-coaster read, so we will now have a brief
with some beautiful baby black mermaids
These lovely little merkids are by illustrator Raissa Figueroa, aka @Rizzyfig on Instagram. She created a series on this little afro-haired mermaid for Mermay one year and so many people fell in love with this little character that she's kept on drawing her and boosted her whole illustration career as a result.
You can purchase a print of these beautiful baby mers on Etsy HERE.
You can also follow her on Twitter and get in-process or glimpses of new sketches HERE.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Intermission Over ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Don't Worry: Classic Ariel Will Not Die - Ever
The level of distress on social media about the live-action casting is downright odd for another reason. Having a new black Ariel, does NOT remove, erase, eclipse, or in any way 'undo' the fact that red-haired, white-skinned Ariel exists. She will always exist. For thirty years this very Western image has represented the Little Mermaid story (thanks to Disney's worldwide influence). If you judged from the outrage evident in response to casting a live-action black actress and singer in the role, you would think these distressed Ariel fans think "their" Ariel would no longer exist, but that will never be. Both characters are Disney. Both are/will be lucrative properties for the Disney marketing department and they're not about to let a proven cash cow of 30 solid years disappear. When assured that the classic Ariel won't disappear, all that's left is that those who are attached to "their" Ariel just want all the new shiny for themselves. Put that way, the negative responses begin to look... well... spoiled. Eep.
Annie Leibovitz photography fro Disney Dream Portraits, featuring Julianne Moore as Ariel
Classic Ariel "In The Flesh"
Parody poster of Mera (artist unknown)
Amber Heard as The Little Mermaid, all grown up

But let's play devils' advocate for a minute and talk about representing the original classic, that is, Ariel with white skin and red hair. What look-alikes do "Ariel purists" have? See below for an "off-the-top-of-our-heads" list (not conclusive by a long shot):

  • Disneyland & Disney World/s live Ariel character performers (for 30 years)
  • The Little Mermaid musical - the title role in the big Disney version/s and the school-approved versions
  • Every Disney Little Mermaid Halloween/roleplay/cosplay costume ever
  • All the Ariel dolls
  • Not to mention her image on hundreds of products
  • The Annie Leibovitz poster photo of Julianne More as Ariel for Disney Dream Portraits (and Queen Latifah as Ursula)
  • Once Upon A Time's live-action Ariel  - a repeat role in the series (played by JoAnna Garcia Swisher) - note that this version is on film and includes many iconic scenes from the classic movie as they fit the story being told
  • Mera from DC's Aquaman 2018
Wait! Mera isn't even Disney and isn't Ariel! Why is she included?? Here's the reality: even though the character is not owned by Disney, the new live-action Mera looked exactly like (quote) "Ariel on crack", all grown-up and ready to fight and rule by her own merits. In fact, if Disney had decided to use a "spitting image human" of the animated Ariel she would look an awful lot like Mera (although younger and more naive), with the disadvantage that Disney's Ariel would look rather wimpy next to her. Mera is totally badass and a now a feminist icon in her own right. A live-action Ariel who looked similar would always be compared to her. We suspect Disney marketing folks are quite aware of this, just as they were very aware of needing to distance the new mermaid, aka Ariel, being created at Disney Feature Animation from Darryl Hannah's blonde mermaid sensation in the 1984 hit-movie Splash. A Splash sequel )(Splash, Too) was also in the works when The Little Mermaid was pitched and the to-be-animated-classic was "temporarily nixed" as a result: "Too many mermaids!" said the then-CEO, though that decision was later reversed. Eventually, the reasons for giving Ariel red hair, rather than blonde, were a) not like Darryl Hannah and b) because red is a complementary color - that is, opposite - of green (the mermaid tail). Yes, folks - that is the main reason Ariel became a red-head instead of the expected blonde. Red was not chosen for ginger-representation. It was for marketing.

Why did we bother with this list? There are many already-awesome options to choose from, should folks need a human-looking version of the classic Ariel to still feel 'represented'. Truly, there is such an abundance - why is it the 'purists' feel they are 'owed' (not our term!) the new live-action movie too?

Disney's Black Mermaid Trial Run
ABC OUAT special episode promo poster
 Tiffany Boone as young Ursula
with mer-tail (pre-tentacles)
(OUAT ep 4:11)
This seems like a good time to remind folks that Disney already had a successful trial run with a black Ariel-like mermaid**. The very popular Disney-owned and based series Once Upon A Time, was known for looking into classic characters and exploring their backstories, always with a twist on the trope. Villains weren't exempt from the treatment and often the black and white villains ended up eliciting sympathy from the viewers regarding their own difficult pasts and bad decisions (making it very possible for many of them to be redeemed). With Ariel having made an appearance in a couple of episodes, it wasn't unexpected that Ursula would appear too and that fans would learn how she came to be the villain she was known to be. In an inspired twist, it turned out Ursula's story was actually a Little Mermaid tale. 

 Tiffany Boone as young Ursula
on land (
OUAT ep 4:11)
The exploration was short and kept within a single episode, which meant it didn't get as much media coverage as a story with a multi-episode arc. As a result, it's a great pity the episode "Poor Unfortunate Soul" didn't get more attention. In the OUAT "twist" Ursula was originally a beautiful young, black mermaid. She's seen with tail and fins, on land with two human legs and eventually transforms into having those classic and villainous tentacles. Fans loved it all. While it should be noted that OUAT included a red-headed, white-skinned Ariel (and her Prince Eric) in their character line-up throughout the series (and in the same episode!) to be on the safe side, Ursula's own mermaid story of a girl finding her feet and her voice was beautifully written, poignant, unexpected and immensely satisfying in its exploration of multiple issues and their resolution. While OUAT was inconsistent on many fronts throughout the series and draws a lot of criticism, it did have many moments where it struck a chord, was truly revisionist and a perfect exploration of the fairy tale in its pop culture era. Ursula's backstory as the "original" Little Mermaid was one of those.

Ursula and Uncomfortable Truths
"Mary Belle and the Mermaid" illustration by Leo & Diane

from Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales by Virginia Hamilton

(Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner)

With Melissa McCarthy now confirmed for the role of Ursula, we're already holding our breath for that moment when the white lady takes away the black girl's voice... yikes! 

But perhaps that's what Disney and Director Rob Marshall are planning to acknowledge and explore. Although women as a whole have had it tough for the majority of written history, when it comes to inequality it must be acknowledged that white women are not completely blameless. It would seem it's a hard conversation to have but that makes it worth having all the more. The negative reaction to the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel by a rather large (and vocal) demographic has been surprising, and uncovered a hidden white-privilege mindset among long-time (mostly female) fans - women who believe themselves to be progressive, inclusive and 'woke'.

That the negative response to Disney's casting of Halle Bailey was - and is - so very emotional and feels personal to those objecting is a clue to just how endemic white privilege is and that's a scary thing, especially seeing it come from intelligent people you know and love, and, let's be honest, in some cases ourselves. To be clear, there is no doubt many of these women are much more progressive than their predecessors but that doesn't mean there isn't still (a lot of) work to do. That this is happening at all should make it clear that this issue needs to be addressed, and attitudes - and assumptions - reassessed. Now. While we will admit we were hoping a wonderful drag queen (with all the singing and acting chops) would be cast in the villain's role to nod to the character's original inspiration (Harris Glenn Milstead, better known as Devine), putting a powerful white woman in the antagonist role opposite a lovely young black heroine is going to resonate... 

Uncomfortable? Yes. 
Worth the trouble and ruffled feathers (er scales)? Absolutely.

Congratulations Halle!
We are so here for this movie!
Disney's live-action feature film, The Little Mermaid, is scheduled to go into production in 2020.

*A Short Reference List on Mermaids & Mermaid Tales From Around the World
Every country with a coast has their version of mermaid tales but many of those mermaids look a little different than the popular images we've gotten used to. Here are some resources for you to find some different mermaid tales


A Treasury of Mermaids: Mermaid Tales from Around the World – a diverse cultural collection of tales by folklorist Shirley Climo

Mermaid and Other Water Spirit Tales From Around the World (Surlalune Fairy Tale series) by Heidi Anne Heiner

Mermaid Tales From Around the World by Mary Pope Osborne

The Annotated African American Folktales edited by Henry Louis Gates, Maria Tatar, includes a mermaid tale with annotations


** Other Disney "Trial-Runs" On OUAT:

  • black Rapunzel (huge hit! though they also had a white version as well)
  • female Jack (of the famous beanstalk)
  • lesbian Mulan (& Dorothy - a nice nod to the LGBTQ community and their famed love of the MGM movie)
  • a maternal Maleficent (which the Disney live-action movie also used)
  • a Latina Cinderella
The whole season 8 of OUAT had the Latina Cinderella (Jacinda) as the main character, with the premise of the eighth season being that there are multiple versions of the same fairy tale across universes - a valiant effort for inclusivity though a little late in the show's popularity to make a huge difference. Still, it showed that some people were considering the same stories with a different look, and that's a huge step toward inclusivity and diversity.
For further reading, you may enjoy
Mermaids, of course, don’t belong to one region. The earliest fish-women emerged in southwestern Asia’s ancient Mesopotamia, said Sarah Peverley, a cultural historian at the University of Liverpool in England.
“But almost every culture has a version of a mermaid,” she said. “They come in all shapes, sizes and skin color.”
When the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen published “The Little Mermaid” in 1837, people across Africa were already swapping tales about Mami
Wata. (Washington Post)