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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘The Little Mermaid’ is a magical, inclusive reimaging of a classic film

ACE at UC Davis hosted a premiere watch party for students and community members 


By LORENA ALVAREZ — arts@theaggie.org


The release of the official teaser for the live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” last year was met with mixed reactions. Some fans were excited to see actress and singer Halle Bailey step into the role of Ariel, while others voiced their disappointment that their beloved Disney princess would not have the same appearance as she did in the animated classic from 1989. This “transparently racist” backlash about Bailey being chosen for the starring role sparked a conversation about the continued need to celebrate and advocate for Black representation in the media. 

UC Davis African Diaspora Cultivating Education (ACE), a community program under the Student Recruitment & Retention Center, did just that. The program invited community members to join them for the movie’s premiere on May 26.

ACE aims to “create a supportive environment that encourages Black students’ mental, physical and academic successes through programming, retreats, and conferences that aim to empower students in the African Diaspora,” according to the program’s website.  

Arriyon White, ACE’s academic achievement coordinator and a political science and sociology double major, commented on the importance of the event. 

“‘The Little Mermaid’ premiere provided an opportunity to build community connection, expand Black students’ network and provided the space to observe one of the first representations of a Black female lead in a Disney movie,” White said. “[A] role where a young Black girl who is a princess, seeking love and adventure, [gets] to live the ‘happily ever after’ that is usually represented as white.” 

She stated the deep value inherent in representation without stereotyping, especially from entertainment produced by Disney, which ranked high on Fortune’s list of the “World’s Most Admired Companies.”

“Many of us as young Black children didn’t grow up seeing people who looked and sounded like us as Disney princesses, and I felt that […] watching ‘The Little Mermaid’ would inspire and mean a lot to members of my community,” White said. “Especially since most of the Black students at Davis will be either the first or one of the few Black people in their careers or workplaces.” 

The event was met with positive responses. Melanie Madrigal, a third-year environmental toxicology major, commented on her experience attending the event. 

“I liked that ACE was able to host a premiere because it allowed me to see the movie on the big screen and made the movie experience more fun,” Madrigal said. “Halle has such a wonderful voice and I feel like she really captures what a princess is in my mind. [The production team] showcased Eric’s crush or infatuation with Ariel a bit better [than the original movie]. They built their relationship nicely and it made us root for them.”

Aside from the positive reception in regard to Bailey’s performance, some viewers did have some critiques about the movie’s effects. Alexandra Navarro, a second-year animal biology major, noted the movie’s CGI and depiction of Flounder. 

“I particularly enjoyed the scenes in which Ariel rescues Prince Eric from drowning and when Ursula became a giant,” Navarro said. “I think they did a good job with the CGI there, [but] it was quite sad [seeing Flounder] compared to the loveable character I grew up watching. I feel as if the way he was depicted didn’t capture the true essence of the original Flounder’s personality.”   

Like Navarro, I felt that the characterizations of Flounder, Sebastian and Scuttle did not mirror their portrayal in the original movie. That said, Bailey’s performance of Ariel touched many people, myself included. Her voice reminded me of the iconic mermaid who I wished I could be as a child. I especially enjoyed the lyric changes in “Kiss the Girl” because they foster consent: “It don’t take a word, not a single word/Go on and kiss the girl” to “use your words, boy, and ask her.”

While the movie’s CGI had some mixed reactions, ACE reminded community members of the importance of representation by bringing people together to see the first Black Disney live-action princess. ACE empower[ed] students by hosting this premiere, while little girls around the world now have the opportunity to see themselves as princesses because of Bailey’s magical performance.

Written by: Lorena Alvarez — arts@theaggie.org