Progressive ‘Little Mermaid’ Not Woke Enough

Disney did what Disney does in 2023 when it came time for a new “Little Mermaid” film.

The mega studio turned the saga’s white heroine into a black one, impressively portrayed by actress Halle Bailey. Some of the original film’s lyrics got the boot, presumably because they didn’t align perfectly with modern mores.

And, in a critical sequence not to be spoiled here, Ariel rides to the rescue instead of her male beau.

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Those measures match Disney’s current ethos, a brand shift that has had punishing economic consequences. And yet, once again, the reaction is similar to past efforts.

It’s not woke enough.

That cry came from The New York Times’ review of the film. Critic Wesley Morris’ starts his review on a bizarre note, bemoaning the lack of “kink” in a family-friendly tale. He later dubs the film “timid and reactive. The colorization hasn’t led to a racialized, radicalized adventure. It’s not a Black adaptation, an interpretation that imbues white material with Black culture until it’s something completely new; it’s not “The Wiz.” It’s still a Disney movie, one whose heroine now, sigh, happens to be Black.”

The critic’s most intriguing comment comes at the end, He praises Awkwafina’s singular musical moment, playing Scuttle the bird, as fresh and messy, but he accidentally reveals where wokism too often leads.

This is a witty, complex, exuberant, breathless, deeply American number that’s also the movie’s one moment of unbridled, unabashed delight. And I can’t wait to see how Disney’s going to apologize for it in 34 years.

HuffPo similarly snubs the movie for not doing enough to fight “systemic racism.”

“The Little Mermaid” goes out of its way, literally incorporating a whole new sequence, to show both Ariel and Eric experiencing and engaging with a Black humanity that is foreign to each of them, but stops short of actually dealing with that.

This is all easy to write off as expected Disney gloss, except that the studio made a huge diversity push around this movie, making it seem like it was going to deepen Ariel’s identity in a new way. Instead, Blackness and the diversity buzzwords the marketing machine peddled around for months are mere set pieces in a story that is still confined inside a fundamentally white gaze.

The HuffPo piece references a similar think piece from the left-wing Vulture. That article, according to HuffPo, boasts this withering line:

This ‘Little Mermaid’ only provides the skin of progress, not the bone, marrow, sinew, and guts necessary to change a story on a deeper level.

Not woke enough. Again.

It rarely is, of course. “Booksmart,” the ultimate achievement in woke comedy, similarly got pummeled by some far-Left critics.

Yet HuffPo hints at the larger problem here. The site’s article slams similarly woke reboots like “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” and the recent “Fatal Attraction” series.

Those projects ripped the core elements from the original stories, leaving content that’s flavorless and dull.

That’s the woke effect. Yet the sites can’t make the larger connection between freedom-snuffing woke and mediocre content.

The Disney film is now under attack for allegedly erasing slavery in the film’s Caribbean setting. Marcus Ryder, chair of Britain’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, blasted the film on his blog.

“I do not think we do our children any favours by pretending that slavery didn’t exist … Setting the fantastical story in this time and place is literally the equivalent of setting a love story between Jew and Gentile in 1940 Germany and ignoring the Jewish holocaust.”

Ryder also questioned why two white men, director Rob Marshall and writer David Magee, were so critical to the film’s creation given the film’s diversity mandates.

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