In Honor of the New Ariel: 8 Examples of Diverse Casting in Adaptations On Screen

By Isabelle Cruz
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Following the announcement of the casting of the live action Little Mermaid’s Ariel, fans protested #NotMyAriel and #NotMyMermaid. Half of R&B sister duo Chloe x Halle, Halle Bailey, was chosen to portray the iconic redheaded mermaid. Bailey is claimed to be the first woman of color to play a traditionally white princess. Regardless of race, which isn’t central in this tale, this isn’t the first time fans have backlashed against the diversification of a cultural icon. Here is a list of 8 adaptations you may recognize and the reactions that came with each:

8) Cinderella – “The Wonderful World of Disney” Cinderella (TV; 1997)

Portrayed by Brandy Norwood

About 22 years ago, at the time 18-year-old R&B singer Brandy faced similar circumstances as Bailey when she was cast as the lead, Cinderella, in an episode of “The Wonderful World of Disney.” The episode had a multiracial cast and sparked accusations of an attempt to be ‘politically correct.’ Others saw this attempt as revolutionary as it was released during a time when pop culture was shifting. This was a step forward in the unique and dynamic movement of retelling our classic fairy tales.

7) Johnny Storm – Fantastic Four (Film; 2015)

Portrayed by Michael B. Jordan

In the 60s’, Johnny Storm was known as the blue-eyed, blonde haired Fantastic Four teen with a temper that could literally start flames. In the first live action adaption of the Fantastic Four (2005), Chris Evans portrayed the hothead and in the recent reboot of the film series in 2015, Michael B. Jordan was chosen to portray the role. There was outcry against his casting. However, in a personal essay, comic book writing legend Stan Lee, wrote his approval and saw the reactions more as opposition to changes in a series or favorite characters than an example of racial prejudice. Overall, not all of the reception was negative and some fans had accepted the reboot with excitement.

6) Domino – Deadpool 2 (Film; 2018)

Portrayed by Zazie Beetz

In the 2018 film “Deadpool,” “Atlanta” star Zazie Beetz portrayed sassy, ace assassin and ally, Domino. Deadpool star, Ryan Reynolds tweeted a photo of his costar and fans immediately reacted; some with praise and some with photoshop. Domino in the comics has olive tone skin sporting a black spot around her eye. Some angry fans declared it was “opposite” of the chosen star. Some rebutted this by mentioning how dominoes can also be black with white dots. According to Bustle, the film changed Domino’s relationship to Deadpool, but kept her character true to her spirit in the comics. Isn’t that what really what matters?

5) Starfire – Teen Titans (TV; 2018)

Portrayed by Anna Diop

DC Comics’ Teen Titans, or now known as “Titans” in the new gritty live action adaptation, hit screens last October 2018. Reactions centered around the changes with Tamaranian heroine Starfire. After the release of the trailer for the series, mockery was centered around Starfire, more specifically her appearance. In the comics, Starfire has tangerine orange skin, red hair and a curvy physique. Senegalese actress Anna Diop had to disable comments on her social media because of the harassment coming from a place of sexism and misogyny. Fans on another end have lent their support for the actress and encouraged her to remain strong. It seems these strong reactions come from comic adaptations, but with continued support this can change.

4) Michelle “MJ” – Spiderman Homecoming (Film; 2017)

Portrayed by Zendaya Coleman

Fans were surprised to learn the newest Spiderman film series had their own version of MJ, but not in the way they thought. Disney star Zendaya Coleman plays Michelle “MJ” Jones in the new 2017 “Spiderman Homecoming” and 2019 “Spiderman Far From Home.” MJ in this adaptation is Michelle Jones. The nickname was a homage to the original Mary Jane Watson, or love interest of Spiderman. MJ in this universe isn’t ask “obsessed with Parker, but rather “observant” and witty. Out of all the cases on this list, it seems most fans “stanned” Coleman for her part in this role.

3) Genie – Aladdin (Film; 2019)

Portrayed by Will Smith

After the talks about who should play Jasmine, Aladdin and Jafar in the 2019 live action film Aladdin, no one paid much attention to who should play Genie – the blue mystic wish granter. Everyone remembers original Genie was voiced by Robin Williams. When it was announced that Will Smith was going to play Genie, Smith told Entertainment Weekly his take on Genie would run parallel to Williams’s as “an homage” which sourced his own genealogy as an actor. Fans were pleased nevertheless with Smith’s take, but reactions to the film itself were another story.

2) Molly Wright/ Agent M and Agent H – Men In Black International (Film; 2019)

Portrayed by Tessa Thompson

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson star in the new Men In Black called “Men in Black International” as Agent H and Agent M. Will Smith, who had played Agent J in the original franchise, was a major influence to both actors. They often joked about who was playing Smith between the pair. One of the biggest challenges with this film was keeping a balance between  using pieces of the old and creating something new and different. This went as far as Thompson refusing to say Smith’s iconic line to differentiate her character since she felt conscious of “too much nostalgia” with her part. She feels this franchise and the remaking of it has creative potential because of “modern sensibility.” And as business goes, some liked it and some didn’t.

1) Ariel – The Little Mermaid (Film; 2019)

Portrayed by Halle Bailey

When it was announced that Halle Bailey would play Ariel, people had mistaken the R&B singer with actress Halle Berry. After negative responses to her casting, Freeform stepped in and responded to the messages:

“The character of Ariel is a work of fiction,” said Freeform addressed to “poor unfortunate souls.” The Washington Post mentions legends of a black water spirit called Mami Wata who is characterized as an aquatic being, almost like a mermaid. There were black mermaids before Disney, but when you really think about it, mermaids are mermaids, not exactly a specific race or color. Despite the drama behind the reactions toward Bailey’s casting, there is a large flow of  support for the singer and her upcoming endeavor.

So is there a problem with diversifying these cultural icons? Or are the effects just as polarizing because of the tendency to fixate on physical appearances? There’s been a history of ‘whitewashing’ in the media from the release of films like “West Side Story,” “The Wall,” “Deathnote” and even “Dr. Strange.”

Perhaps this process of representation is being used to redeem the industry for the lack of representation in the past. Maybe at some point people can look past physical appearance and embrace the ‘spirit of the character’ as Little Mermaid voice actress Jodi Benson once said.

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