Being culturally and politically appropriate in casting is extremely important in today’s society. After years of predominantly white influences in media and misrepresentation of minority groups, the need for diversity and cultural integrity in Hollywood is greater than ever.
Take Disney’s live action remake of The Little Mermaid, for example. Ariel is portrayed by a white woman with red hair in the original cartoon, but the live action film, directed by Rob Marshall, will feature popular singer and actress Halle Bailey as Ariel.
Her casting has brought up the issue of cultural integrity in film and what should or should not constitute audience outrage. It’s important to determine, however, when a character’s race and ethnicity are essential to the plot.
Although Ariel is white and assumed Norwegian based on her location, at no point in the film does anything about her race, culture, ethnicity or hairstyle factor in. The only characteristic of the role that is essential to the plotline is her gender, because the story hints at female empowerment.
A lot of the backlash is coming from people on Twitter, claiming Bailey “doesn’t look enough like the original Ariel.” Some of the Bailey-as-Ariel haters have even gone as far to argue a comparison that people on the opposing side of the argument would be outraged if Tiana or Mulan were to be cast as a white woman.
Tiana, of Disney’s Princess and the Frog, lives in 1926 New Orleans, where she’s living in poverty and working two jobs to try to save money to open her own diner. More importantly, Tiana was Disney’s first African American princess, providing much-needed representation for young women.
Mulan is a young Chinese woman living in the Han dynasty who, when forced into a marriage, takes her father’s place in the war. Chinese culture, albeit misrepresented, is a main focus of the film. The live-action remake hopes to rectify its past wrongs, however.
There would undoubtedly be outrage if a Disney princess like Tiana or Mulan, whose characters’ races help define the story, were to be cast as a white woman. Such as Angelina Jolie’s casting as Mariane Pearl, an African American journalist, caused backlash about how the casting affects the Pearl’s role.
Casting either of these strong women with an actress who doesn’t represent these cultures would be a blatant defiling of stories filled with some of Disney’s biggest — and only — representations of those two groups of people.
There’s also the futile argument of reverse whitewashing as Hollywood pushes for diversity in its films. Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical, Hamilton, tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the other founding fathers. But instead of casting all the characters as white men or women, Miranda cast people of minority groups as every role. By incorporating minority groups into the story, Miranda is helping the Broadway diversity push and providing more leading roles for minority groups.
The push for casting more diverse characters is the long-needed frustration of minority groups. White people have been the stars of film and Broadway since the beginning of show business, so Miranda focused on the story of Hamilton, instead of keying in on the race of the characters involved. Miranda’s message has always been diversity, and his casting decisions show that he practices what he preaches.
It boils down to this: if a film is written for a character who is an ethnic minority, and their race and ethnicity are essential to the plot, an actor of the same ethnicity should be cast.
Riley Runnells is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Let Riley know by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.