The Backlash Over Halle Bailey Should be Shocking

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I mean, it’s incredible isn’t it?

A talented actress lands an incredible role which will mean so much to so many people on so many levels… but other certain people have to shit all over it.

The film industry, along with just about every other industry, has always been very white. Just about every movie or TV show has a white lead actor or actress and you could probably name a handful that do not. The fact is that the norm is white, and usually male. People of colour have been mistreated onscreen since screen began and before that… well, we all know what atrocities white people put them through.

It’s 2019 and people of colour are still not treated as they deserve to be. It’s appalling and there is absolutely no excuse for it.

I had a conversation recently with a twelve year-old kid — he was in trouble for having used a racist word toward a fellow student. This was not a bad kid, he was generally a pleasant lad. I asked him why he thought that was acceptable and he said that the other kid had insulted his mother.

I told the lad that while that was out of order and completely uncalled for; a racist slur was further still and never ever acceptable. His excuse was that his father uses the word. Which put me in a predicament. However, not one to back away from the truth, I told the kid that his dad should know better and that he should never use that word again. I urged him to remember the suffering that people of colour had been through and the prejudice which they still face today. I referred him to the book — ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ — which he is currently reading in English class.

I’m not sure if I got through to him or not. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. But racism starts at home and it can end at home.

Unfortunately in a lot of cases it is fuelled at home. Hence the shitstorm we are experiencing now. Aimed at a nineteen year-old actress.

Racism is rife.

It is unacceptable, disgusting, and frankly, people should be fucking ashamed of themselves.

The main crux of their issue is that they grew up with a white Ariel who had red hair. That is their concern. Hair colour!

The Little Mermaid was released in the UK on October 12th 1990. This movie is 29 years old. If you grew up with it; you are around 19 years old right now, at least.

By nineteen years of age, you should definitely be thinking for yourself and be able to think critically. You should have some history lessons under your belt. You should know who Rosa Parks was and you should know about Martin Luther King’s speech. Hell, you should even know about Stephen Lawrence and his lack of justice.

You should know the shit people of colour go through every single day. There is no excuse for ignorance. Everyone has a tiny supercomputer in their pocket.

And yet…

A nineteen year-old girl lands a massive acting gig, the best moment of her entire life, probably. I mean, she was signed by Beyoncé also — so at least like top two. And how do privileged, entitled white people act? They throw a hissy fit because she doesn’t fit with their childhood version of a computer animated half-fish character. It’s the very definition of privilege. Suddenly, The Little Mermaid is every white person’s favourite film of all time and the appointment of Halle Bailey has ruined it forever for them.

I’m sorry, but sod off. For the following reasons:

1. You still have the original version!

2. Do you know (or care) what this means for so many people of colour, for women of colour, for girls of colour? It’s basic representation. But sure, your white middle-aged butt deserves it more.

3. She is an incredible singer and actress. She has the backing of so many big stars… but you know better? Give me a break.

4. Why are you acting so threatened? Maybe you’re concerned that with this casting choice a new wave of POC in leading roles is going to take over the industry.

Racism in real life.

I unfriended two people on Facebook today, over this. Friends of friends. One of them was very clear that she is not a racist, whilst saying that because Ariel is not going to be white, she won’t watch it and it’s ruined to her. I mean, if you have to say you’re not a racist — you definitely are. She also asked the question — “How will I explain to my child that she (Halle Bailey) is Ariel?” — Excuse me?! Unless your child is as racist as you… you do not need to explain shit to her. She’s five. I’m guessing when she sees a poster or a trailer which announces a film about Ariel — The Little Mermaid with Halle’s face on it or in it — she’ll figure it out. Worst case, she’ll catch on when someone says her name in the actual movie. Kids are clever like that and movies are generally set up so that we get an idea of characters’ names pretty sharpish.

It’s so sad that this is still the case and I wonder if it will ever truly change. I had seen some of the Twitter nonsense about the casting of Miss Bailey but I thought it was just idiots causing trouble and hoped that the things said didn’t actually come from real people. That misconception was put to bed when I saw the conversation on Facebook.

Normally I would get involved, say my piece, likely piss everyone off, but I was late to the party and I didn’t really know those involved, so I just blocked them and wiped my hands of their bullshit.

It’s just incredibly sad.

It really is a big step forward for Disney and for Hollywood and for women of colour. Here was a chance to change the normal order of things, and they grabbed it. There appears to have been shift recently and I for one hope it continues that way.

We can still name most of the movies that sit against the grain quite quickly and probably on our hands, but this shift is good. It’s also long overdue.

I long for a world where the acting role, or any job role actually, is simply awarded to the person best suited to the job.

There will always be backlash I guess, there will continue to be racists. But the best way to silence them is to keep upsetting them. Let’s take their normal away and write a new one.

And. About. Fucking. Time.

Children/YA author and literacy teacher. I write articles about writing, teaching, fatherhood, and gender/racial equality among other things!

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