While I was away, one controversy caught my eye — and that was the anger some people had at Disney for their live action remake of The Little Mermaid and their decision to have the black actress Halle Bailey play Ariel. Bailey is an actress with a long history both in the music industry and working for Disney, so it makes sense she would be chosen. However, the decision to make this previously white character from a European fairy tale black has led to some conversation on the topic of race.
Over on my YouTube channel, I covered the video a YouTuber named Shady Doorag made criticizing this decision and gave my basic thoughts on this situation. However, Shady was far from the only person to have an odd and nonsensical take. Matt Walsh, the right-wing podcaster, spent time on his show arguing that scientifically it didn’t make any sense for a mermaid to have dark skin. Meanwhile, others were criticizing an Amazon produced series based off of Lord of the Rings for having black and Asian actors to play characters who were only described as white in the original books.
At this point, I think it’s fair to say that everybody is against the practice of whitewashing, or making a character who was originally any race other than white white for the sake of an adaption. When The Last Airbender — a movie based off of the Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender — was released in 2010, one of the many criticisms launched its way was that it had characters who were originally Asian portrayed by white actors. This was not helped by the fact that the actors were fucking terrible — as was the film in general, to the point where it won the Golden Raspberry Award for worst picture in 2010. I imagine the fact that not only were previously Asian characters played by white people, but they were played by white people who had no idea how to act especially made the situation bad for anybody who was a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Mind you, before modern whitewashing was engaged in, Hollywood would just use makeup to make people look more like a different race. This was something Mystery Science Theater 3000 dubbed “bad actor, bad decision” during their episode on The Castle of Fu Manchu, where the white Christopher Lee had his eyes taped back to make him look Asian while playing the title villain. Neither this nor its inverse is ever done unless it’s…