‘The Little Mermaid’ is back with a new look. Why that matters to these Black families.

What the new Little Mermaid adaptation means for Black children. (Image: Illustration by Aurélia Durand for Yahoo)

What the new Little Mermaid adaptation means for Black children. (Image: Illustration by Aurélia Durand for Yahoo)

“Boy, was I obsessed!” Mary Jorge says of seeing The Little Mermaid in the movie theater with her family for the first time back in 1989. “It feels like just yesterday. … I can’t believe it’s been over 30 years.”

Jorge is now a 41-year-old mother of three, but the decades have done nothing to dim her love for the animated Disney classic. “I still know all the lyrics to the soundtrack and I have a box in my basement filled with all the dolls and costumes I collected when I was younger,” she tells Yahoo Life.

She’s now sharing the contents of this box with her daughter, the only one of her children who shares her love for the film. Lilly, who is 7 years old, thinks it’s “pretty cool” that her mother had Little Mermaid dolls.

“I like that Mommy knows Ariel because she sings to me and her voice sounds like Ariel’s,” Lilly says.

Angela Karanja also shares Jorge’s love. Karanja is a 47-year-old mother, author and parenting expert at Raising Remarkable Teenagers. Though she didn’t actually watch it until she was 18, Karanja says she “loved the movie and I always will.”

Karanja and her daughter are now looking ahead to the May 26 release of the film’s live-action remake. Directed by Rob Marshall, The Little Mermaid made waves when it was announced in 2019 that actress and singer Halle Bailey, one half of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle, would be playing Ariel. For Karanja, seeing the mermaid character be portrayed by a Black woman is momentous.

“I’m very excited, for me and all young Black girls,” she says. “This is not just great for kids but also for parents of Black kids who now have something to point to as a reference when encouraging their kids to dream on and dream big.”

But 23-year-old Bailey has also been subjected to racist trolling as a result of her casting. Karanja believes the backlash is controlling and entitled. “To think that a fairy tale can be owned by a certain group of people is simply atrocious,” she says. “The story of Ariel is the story of a young girl wanting to dream and hope and be adventurous. These are human qualities that are not reserved for a particular race and not others.”

The representation is also important to mother of three Naomi Simmons. Simmons tells Yahoo Life that her daughters cried when they first watched The Little Mermaid trailer.

“It was such an emotional day at my home,” she says. “I’ve always known representation matters, but watching my babies tear up really put that into perspective for me.”

Her daughter Abigail agrees. “My friends and I are so excited for it,” she tells Yahoo Life “Other than Tiana, we’ve never really had a princess that looked like us. My best friend has locs, but they’re not as long as Ariel’s. It’s still very cool though.”

Bailey’s Ariel will also be hitting the playroom, with Disney releasing mermaid dolls inspired by the upcoming movie. Speaking to Yahoo Life’s Tayler Adigun in March, Bailey called having a doll modeled after her a “really special moment.”

“I teared up when I saw her,” Bailey shared. “It was an emotional moment because I just remember being a little girl and wishing that I had a doll that looked like me. The dolls that I did end up having — I think there was this really amazing Black American Girl doll that I used to have and then Destiny’s Child came out with their dolls — really were just staples for me as a little girl, and just did so much for my self-esteem. To be able to see my own self with one is really surreal.”

Jasmine Williams, a 32-year-old mom of two boys, pre-ordered two Ariel dolls when they were first revealed: one for herself to keep as a collector’s item, and one for her kids to play with.

“When I saw the video of Halle Bailey unveiling the doll I gasped. They are so beautiful and this is something so many Black women needed as little girls,” says Williams, who plans to host a viewing party for her kids, their friends and her girlfriends when the film is eventually released on Disney+. “In the ’90s, visually appealing Black dolls were few and far between. I am so glad that now we have options.”

Simmons’s children are also excited for the dolls. “They’ve made me promise over and over to get it for them,” she says. “Even my oldest, who has never been a huge fan of dolls.”

As Black mothers who grew up without the representation they craved, Jorge, Karanja, Simmons and Williams see the updated Little Mermaid film and doll as much more than a pop culture phenomenon.

“In a world where Black women are continually demanding to be seen, heard and respected, we deserve to see ourselves in positions where we are adored,” Williams says.

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