Written by Penelope Farthing
The live action Little Mermaid remake found its Prince Eric in newcomer Jonah-Hauer King, and I am thrilled! Back in July, I wrote a satirical piece of what I thought the under the sea fairy tale could look like if Ariel’s Prince Charming was black. Obviously, that was an extreme take written as a joke, so don’t get your knickers in a twist. I know sometimes sarcasm is hard to decipher in text, so let me spell it out – that blog was indeed, sarcasm.
I think Jonah looks the part, and is a handsome man who fits the chiseled-jaw, dark-haired archetype we have seen in the animated version. Also, he’s got dimples, always a plus. He wasn’t on my list of prospects, but I’m still satisfied with this choice. He is also somewhat age appropriate, at 24, to Halle’s 19. Hopefully he and Halle have chemistry and boosts both their careers to new heights.
Curiously though, black women, the same group who were cheering for a black princess, are not pleased with the casting choice of Prince Eric. I have seen some comments lamenting that we will never get a black prince, and suggesting more melanated options they thought would be better. But there a few other things I’ve noticed that I wanted to discuss.
Do you really think that a network led by white male network executives will supplant their own image with a black guy? Disney doesn’t owe us anything, because Disney isn’t playing fair, they are playing to win. Back when Kendall St. Charles was on Facebook, she had a brilliant assessment of this whole situation. To summarize, black women see the choice of Halle as being “fair”, like it’s “our turn” to have a chance in the spotlight. But that’s not the nature of Disney’s business model. Regardless of who they cast in whichever role, they will still rake in millions. Whether their casting is done to appease “woker” sensibilities, or not, their brand, and their bottom line, remain largely unscathed. They will also save thousands on advertising because two “controversial” casting choices set the internet ablaze. And black women have proven that no matter how much they threaten to cancel something, more than likely they will still give it support. Case in point: the entire hip-hop industry.
For all the evils black people (many times justifiably) ascribe to white people, we sure do expect a lot from them. Rather than begging Walt and company for a black prince, what has stopped us from making our own? With black storytelling and history being so rich and vast, with myths and legends across the diaspora, it wouldn’t be that hard to tell our own unique tale as old as time (whoops, wrong fairy tale). Instead of drawing explicit hotep art with black women birthing mother Africa out her lady parts, talented artists could have drawn a modern day Mami Wata and made our own mermaid tale, and cast actors and actresses for, and from, the culture. I understand how hard it is hard to break into the industry, but in this age of Amazon Prime and Netflix Originals, or even YouTube and Final Cut Pro, it could have still been done. Why do people think that Disney should care about black love and black fairy tales and black royalty when we haven’t even done it for ourselves?
There was an article on The Root back in July, before a casting decision was made, written by a black man complaining about the casting of Prince Eric. He boldly said “Disney casting Halle is fantastic, but we really need to be up in arms about who they will cast as her prince.” He closed out his article with a real doozy: “we should know that our children, and yes, even we adults, deserve and need (emphasis mine) a #DisneyBlackPrince and representation, too. If Disney casts some random white man as the prince with Halle Bailey and black folks still give this movie money, they’ll need to replace “Under the Sea” with “The Sunken Place.” That would be the only honest description of where we’d be as consumers.” Now, I’m not going to really speak on how utterly conquered that is, or the cringe that I cringed when I read it back in July and again today. Like I said, Disney has no allegiance to our image and are under no obligation to give us promotion, positive or otherwise. Why wouldn’t Disney, largely comprised of “random white men” would cast another “random white man” in the lead role?
Since then though, I haven’t seen very much black male opinions on this role. Once again, black women are doing too much on the behalf of black men. They can hold their own nuts, ladies. If they aren’t outraged at this casting decision (one that wasn’t even guaranteed to them, mind you), there is no need for you to get your superhero cape from the closet. We can celebrate Halle’s win and let the brothers champion for their own.
How come when black men are the leading men, and his love interest is the Latina woman, the biracial woman, the racially ambiguous woman, and the white woman, and the nonblack woman, black love isn’t the focal point anymore? It’s suddenly not as important, seemingly. If we got a black Prince Eriq (yes, with a Q), and Ariel was played by Jonah’s white female newcomer equivalent, who would be complaining? I’d wager it would be black women again, because unfortunately, only half the population required to even have black love, cares about black love. Black love suddenly gets laser focused on when black women are in the spotlight.
When black men control the casting or creative direction, we all too often get the same old struggle narrative, or are erased altogether by women who look nothing like us. Why then should we care that Prince Eric is staying true to the source material, and Princess Ariel got race bent? It’s not like black men have made princess characters for little girls to look up to.
Honestly, this is what it all boils down to. It’s a nice thought that everyone would get their “turn”, but at the end of the day, Disney is a white owned mega corporation who goes where the money is. If they can keep their likeness and image front and center, and still get black dollars, why wouldn’t they? They make their money and see the image and archetype of their family pushed forth. It is not about fairness or morality or the right thing to do. It just is. It is the job of the BETs and the OWNs and TV Ones and Aspires, and now the new Tyler Perry studio, to put forth the positive black love promotion and fairy tale narratives desired.
I am in agreement with the casting of Jonah for Prince Eric. I’m not one for Disney movies, but I’ll definitely be checking it out. What are your thoughts on this? Do share in the comments below!
Disclaimer: This blog was written by me, Penelope Farthing, and my ideas are not necessarily reflective of Christelyn Karazin or other writers on this platform.