Ever since Disney announced in 2019 that Halle Bailey would play Ariel in the live-action remake of The little mermaid, any publicity about the film was met with outrage that a black woman was playing the title character. That fervor came to a head when the first teaser was recently released, featuring Bailey singing “Part of Your World” from the original film. Since then there has been an avalanche of anger from mostly white, mostly right-wing media outlets who simply hate the idea of a black man Little Mermaid.
While anger over Disney’s choice gets most of the attention, films like The Woman King and the coming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever are also facing backlash and trending hashtags about boycotts. But not how The little mermaid Anger, many of those expressing anxiety about the other two films aren’t from conservative white outlets. What exactly do these boycott threats and outrage have in common? They target films that focus on black women – a goal that unites groups that would otherwise be on opposite sides of the political aisle.
That Little Mermaid Setbacks were to be expected. Black characters — particularly black women — taking on roles that were not originally black have been a growing source of abuse and anger in recent years. White audiences targeted Jodie Turner-Smith for playing Anne Boleyn. They came in after Anna Diop for portraying Starfire teen titans, although this character is an alien. Even when black actors play original characters, they are often bullied simply for existing in spaces white people believe they don’t belong in – like Moses Ingram or John Boyega in the war of stars Universe or Steve Toussaint in house of the dragon. So a black woman who slips into the role of Ariel The little mermaid inevitably anger people who despise blacks anyway.
Because, let’s not twist it: that’s what this is about. Whatever excuse these anti-Black personalities make for their justifications — which range from pseudoscientific arguments to made-up mermaid tales — this is about white people who abhor the idea that Black women are the center of every story, all too mention those who have enjoyed them as symbols of white pride. The disgruntled only feel so deeply connected to Ariel’s “legacy” when a black person dares to hurt it.
While That Little Mermaid Backlash is easy to explain and in most cases ignored as just another chance for some to challenge racial stereotypes, the reactions to it The Woman King and Wakanda forever are more complicated.
The Woman King, which hits theaters on September 16, was always a film that needed a fine line between praise and historical fact. The film focuses on the Kingdom of Dahomey and its all-female force, the Agojie warriors, known for their fearlessness and military prowess. However, the Dahomey were also a cog in the transatlantic slave trade, selling other Africans into slavery. The Agojie were also brutal, as detailed in Zora Neale Hurston’s posthumously published 2018 book barracoonin which she interviewed Cudjoe Lewis, who had been captured and sold by the Dahomey in 1860.
As the film neared its release date, the true story of the Kingdom of Dahomey began to get widespread internet coverage, with social media accounts popping up to declare that they would Boycott the film. #BoycottWomanKing Trend during the week of the film’s release.
That Queen is not a perfect historical retelling of the Agojie. While the film does not detail the depths of the Dahomey’s involvement in the slave trade, a key conflict is the kingdom’s role in the sale of African compatriots to Europeans, an issue assumed by many who described the film as anti-black. that he would not speak to him. The film isn’t perfect and deserves a thoughtful review, as any form of art deserves. (Actually, I was more disappointed by the one-dimensional portrayal of the Oyo Empire, which also sold Africans into slavery as money-hungry scoundrels without giving them any deeper motivation or history.)
While these criticisms are valid, the vociferous attacks on the film and its stars feel like a legitimate critique of artistic choices being used as a vehicle to bring down another project starred by black women. Much of the #BoycottWomanKing hashtag is full of misogyny, anti-gay bias, and newly created Twitter accounts just tweeting about the film, indicating that they are most likely bots. Many also come from those who use the hashtag #ADOS or have this acronym, which stands for American Descendants of Slavery, on their profiles. The ADOS group is part of a genuine reparations movement for black Americans, but has been used online as a vehicle to target black people, particularly black women, who disagree with their tactics. In this case, her specific criticism relates to African Americans celebrating a film about people who harm Africans. This criticism turns into greed and sometimes even threats.
Many of these reports are the kind that perpetuate contempt for black women under the pretense of seeking what is best for black people. We saw the same thing when Harriet was released in 2019. The film played fast and loose with the story, but those legitimate criticisms turned into online abuse by the people involved in the film and those trying to defend it. While these accounts claim to be pro-Black, their treatment of Black women is anything but. Instead, they perpetuate the same anti-blackness of white voices they vow to fight against.
The National Reviewfor example, wrote a takedown of The Woman King for his portrayal of African involvement in the slave trade and political commentator and comedian Bill Maher made it a point to address that Africans sold other Africans into slavery, in a typically simplistic attitude that conveniently obliterates the racial element of the transatlantic slave trade and its ubiquitous remnants still felt today.
I’ll put my general reactions to white fury behind me The Woman King In short, it is clear that the film was not shot with The National Review reader in mind. But I have to note the irony of people who are angry when the statues of slave owners are torn down, outraged by a film that “disinfects” the role of the protagonists in the slave trade.
I also wonder how many of these people are in favor of a boycott The Woman King in the name of black solidarity, films such as american gangster and Paid in full about real men who made millions selling drugs in black communities. The brutality in the lives of many of these men is also glossed over in Hollywood to ensure they are the protagonists of their stories.
If the Black Panther Consequence Wakanda forever comes out in November, we’ll see the same calls to boycott anti-black-white and pseudo-pro-black accounts again. We have already seen the beginnings of this. Men like Boyce Watkins (who constantly shames Lizzo and other black women) have found that the lack of a replacement for Chadwick Boseman coupled with black women in the lead roles contributes to a sort of feminization of Wakanda history. Watkins himself said the film looked like a “chick flick”. As That Queen Setback, the root of the controversy lies first in something real: a desire to continue T’Challa’s story on screen. It’s a feeling I sometimes agree with. But the movement to replace the Black Panther character is slipping into thinly veiled anger at the fact that the film appears to focus on black women. #RecastTchalla became #BoycottWakandaForever over night.
It may be difficult for some to imagine that Twitter accounts purportedly concerned with black liberation have much in common with Maher or Breitbart readers. At first glance, one appears to be far left and the other far right on the political spectrum. But often that straight line is bent into a circle, with the two opposite sides meeting at the very point where they tear down black women.
When internet personality Kevin Samuels claimed to talk about building strong Black families and Black relationships, he was really just belittling Black women, calling them unworthy of love. At the time of his death, he was a leading voice for black men who professed to work for the betterment of blackness, but in reality wanted the widest possible platform to destroy black women. Complaining about black women stars in Wakanda forever under the false pretense of talking about black freedom is no different from the white men who pollute the airwaves with their anger at a black mermaid under the false pretense of “tradition”.
Unfortunately, the attack on black women knows no political affiliation, race, or social status. It is as ubiquitous and malicious as it is illogical. Ironically, such hatred is a reason for films such as The little mermaid, The Woman King and Wakanda forever is needed. These films are not above criticism—as long as that criticism is about making it better as art and us as art consumers, and not as a cynical vehicle for piling on even more misogyny.