The Little Black Mermaid

Representation matters

Kiara Jackson

More stories from Kiara Jackson


On May 26th, 2023, Disney will release the live-action film of The Little Mermaid, starring a Black woman.

Last week I had a quick, 5-minute video-chat, with my 8 year old sister, Brooklyn. 

During this conversation I sent her a screenshot from the new “Little Mermaid” teaser trailer, featuring Halle Bailey, the first Black Ariel. 

Here’s how the conversation went. 

Brooklyn, “She looks like me!! She looks like Aubree too! Wait! No more Ariel?”

Me, “She is Ariel!”

Brooklyn, “Really!”

Me, “Really!”

Brooklyn, “Wow, that’s so magical!” 

This conversation left me in tears. 

My little sister got to see herself represented as this magical sea princess. For the first time in history, little Black girls don’t have to go and watch “The Princess and the Frog” to see themselves represented as royal or magical. 

And don’t even get me started on how problematic “The Princess and the Frog” is. We finally get our first Black Disney princess and she’s a frog for 90 percent of the movie! Talk about dehumanizing.

Growing up I wish I could have seen a Black Ariel, Black Tinker Bell or Black Belle. I wish I was raised in a society where I was told that I could have been these things too.

When I was a child I didn’t want to be a princess, because I never believed I could be one. 

Little Black girls are raised to believe that princesses and mermaids and fairies aren’t us. We are raised to believe that they can’t be us because they’ve always been white. 

In our society, and in big part due to Disney’s very long history of racist representation and imagery, little Black girls have been taught that we can’t be royal or magical. 

In our society, Black girls are taught that we can’t be princesses. 

Did you know that 95 years ago Disney released their first animated series, which eventually became known as Mickey Mouse? 

85 years ago, in 1937, Disney released their first official animated film and first princess movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” 

They released another princess movie in 1950, and others in 1959, 1989 and 1991. They were all white. 

In 1992, We got princess Jasmine, our first Disney princess of non-white origin. While her race and ethnicity are often debated many believe Princess Jasmine to be either Arab or Indian. 

In 1995, we got our first Native American princess with Pocahontas. In 1998, we got our first Chinese princess, with “Mulan”, and finally, in 2009 we got our first Black princess, with princess Tiana.

Disney created 49 movies before Black women got to see themselves represented as a princess, or more accurately, as a frog. That’s 70 years without this representation. 

On May 26th, 2023, Disney will release the live-action film of The Little Mermaid, starring a Black woman. 

It has also been reported that Yara Shahidi, will soon be playing a live-action Tinker Bell and H.E.R. will be playing in ABC’s special as Belle in a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. 

So if we as a society have finally begun to create this kind of representation in our movies, why am I writing this article? Isn’t the problem fixed? 

As the new “Little Mermaid” teaser circulated the internet, so did thousands of videos of little Black girls reacting to it. These videos became a new trend on Tiktok. 

As this Tiktok trend increased in size, more and more people began commenting racist things and opposition against Ariel being Black in the video comment section.

It even went so far that someone put on a Black face mask and mocked the little Black girls reacting to themselves being represented. 

This viral TikTok trend began to get people to think about the importance of representation. 

Why is it that so many people in our society have an issue with Ariel being Black? She’s a mythical creature. 

No one had an issue when Ariel was white. Little Black girls loved Ariel regardless of the fact that she didn’t look like them.

So why is it that now that Ariel is Black somehow she has less value to the public?

Is it racism? Is it maybe because people have never seen Black women represented this way in our society?

Ariel is a made-up creature, can someone please tell me why people are so bothered by the fact that she’s Black? 

Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. 

While the original Ariel, Tinker Bell and Belle may be white, the new ones are Black and this new generation of Black girls finally gets to see themselves represented as princesses. 

Ariel is Black now and a whole new generation of Black girls gets to feel seen. Deal with it. 

Jackson can be reached at [email protected]