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  • Writer's pictureJordan Nicole

A Whole New World

As movies begin giving black women a more prominent voice in Hollywood, students comment on how the change impacts them. Article was originally published in The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle on Aug. 28, 2019:

Photo source: "Artist Alice X. Zhang created this image of Halle Bailey as The Little

Mermaid - complete with red hair. TWITTER AND ALICE X. ZHANG"

Most Disney fans envision Ariel as the mermaid princess with red hair, blue eyes and white skin, but in an era that is pushing for more inclusion, Disney is beginning to diversify its casting. In early July, The Walt Disney Co. announced that black singer and “Grownish” actress Halle Bailey will star as Ariel in the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.”

“I’m glad [Bailey] got the role,” Naomi Ogden ’20 said. “I remember her from Disney Channel’s ‘Next Big Thing,’ and it’s good to see a new face on the acting scene. Hollywood needs to remember that there are more than five black actresses out there.”

Ogden also said that casting a black actress for the role of Ariel will have a large effect on young girls of color.

“It’ll be good for little girls of color to see someone that looks like them too,” Ogden said. “It may not seem like that big of a deal until it’s Halloween, and one less little black girl has to [have] her mother straighten her hair and spray it red.”

Over the past several years, audiences have witnessed an uptick in diverse casting, with minorities representing 19.8 percent of leading roles in 2017, which is nearly twice the 2011 number. Talent agent for International Creative Management Dana Sims said that Hollywood is beginning to think more globally when searching for actors to fill existing roles.

“I applaud Disney for recognizing communities and people that would have been background players or side notes,” Sims said. “If you’re Disney, and you have been doing one thing the same way for decades, it’s the natural evolution of storytelling. Because of the Internet, now more than ever, we live in a global village.”

Patrick Gonder, a film instructor at the College of Lake County, said that he finds the uproar about casting Bailey amusing because Hollywood has been white-washing characters since 1896.

“I’ve noticed a lot of memes online where people say, ‘Well if we can have a black Little Mermaid, then I guess it’s okay if we have a white person play Martin Luther King Jr.,’” said Gonder. “That meme is completely ignorant of the fact that that’s exactly what Hollywood has been doing for about a century. They had a white man play Gandhi.”

Gonder also said that the updated versions of the films are vital to the success and commercial appeal of the film.

“Every year, somebody takes a play by Shakespeare, and they present it in a new way,” Gonder said. “If we [presented] it like they did in Elizabethan times, then Shakespeare probably would be dead.”

Bailey isn’t the only black woman who has recently been cast in a traditionally white role. Lashana Lynch, who is known for her role as Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel, was cast as the new 007 in the next James Bond movie, “Bond 25.” Harper’s Bazaar reported that in the movie, James Bond has retired, and Lynch has taken over his 007 code name. Lynch will become the first black woman to ever take on the 007 role.

When former undercover FBI agent and author Naveed Jamali heard that 007 was cast as a black woman, he tweeted in support of the decision. As one of the FBI’s most successful double agents, Jamali said the casting is important because it realistically represents the diversity of spies in the real world.

“People don’t understand [that] both women and people of color, in many cases, [are] not playing in a supporting role, they’re playing a starring role,” Jamali said. “It’s important for the world, and [specifically] Americans, to understand that [the] intelligence community isn’t made up of just straight white men, and we’re better because of it.”

Guy Hartstein ’20 said that Lynch taking on the code name does not affect the movie, as long as James Bond remains himself.

“Casting a black actor doesn’t change the nature of the character because James Bond has nothing to do with skin color or anything that may entail,” Hartstein said. “James Bond is known for his bravado, sexual promiscuity and physical prowess, things that male actors are traditionally taught to convey. I’m not affected by what an actor identifies as, as long he’s the same character.”

Josephine Amakye ’21 said that Hollywood diversifying their castings will impact future opportunities for not only the children but also the actors themselves.

“Through casting black actors in roles previously played by white actors, more children will grow up feeling represented in the shows and movies that they watch, and that is so valuable,” Amakye said. “It also opens a lot more doors for black actors in the industry, and many of them starting out can pursue a career in entertainment without feeling limited to working on select productions.”

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