Race, flags, and “The Little Mermaid”

Let’s review a few facts about race and its portrayal onscreen, okay?

George Washington and Abe Lincoln are white. Donald Trump is white. Joe Biden is white. Mark Zuckerberg is white, too.

Barack Obama is black. So is Kamala Harris. So is Nelson Mandela. So is Malcom X.

If you wish to portray these people in film or video, get the race right.

It’s not just black and white. Cesar Chavez is Hispanic. Mao Zedong is Chinese.

You don’t get to change these things if you make a film about them.

Some fictional characters have race, too. Othello is black. Desdemona is white. Lt. Uhuru is black, as are John Shaft and nearly everybody in “Black Panther.” Travis Bickle is white. Mr. Miyagi is Japanese. Nearly everybody in “Crazy Rich Asians” is Asian.

You don’t get to change these things, either.

But for most fictional characters, race doesn’t enter into it.

Romeo and Juliet aren’t necessarily white. (Ever see “West Side Story?”). Spider-Man isn’t white either (take a look at “Into the Spider-Verse”). Neither is Hermione Granger (ask J.K. Rowling). Santa Claus isn’t white either.

Strictly speaking, the little mermaid is Danish, since she was invented by Hans Christian Anderson. But there is nothing about her story that requires her to be white — other than our preconceptions based on Disney’s earlier version. After all, she’s not even the same species as we are.

So if Disney wants her to look like Halle Bailey (below) in the live-action remake, I only have one question: can she sing? (Apparently, she’s pretty good.)

Don’t like that? Don’t see the movie. Be a snowflake, that’s fine with me.

While we’re at it

This is a symbol of racism.

We fought a war over this. The side that showed this flag wanted to preserve its right to own slaves. This is not in question. If you want to display this flag on your products or possessions, people are going to think you are racist, and I think they’re justified.

This is not a symbol of racism:

Image result for betsy ross flag

People who adopted this “Betsy Ross Flag” owned slaves, but they did not treat it as a banner of their right to own those slaves — it was a banner for independence from Britain.

Extremist groups have apparently adopted the flag as a symbol of when slave ownership was legal, but that came later. And I, for one, am not willing to cede ownership of the symbols of America to racists.

That said, if Nike decided not to use this flag as a theme for a sneaker, that’s up to them. That’s their choice, just like your choice to go or not to go see Disney’s remake of “The Little Mermaid.”

Let’s try to talk these things through without immediately reaching for the bludgeon of boycotts — because that way lies only division and madness.

Enjoy your Independence Day.

4 responses to “Race, flags, and “The Little Mermaid”

  1. Surely one has to be careful to avoid cultural appropriation? Romeo and Juliet, for example, were “designed” by Shakespeare as white Italians from white Italian families (the Montagues and Capulets). Ditto the original Spider-Man.

    Are we not obliged to respect the author’s or designer’s choices for the fictional characters and to represent them in the way their creators intended.

    Obviously that would not apply if we re-imagined the characters by altering the story to a different time and place and changing their names – as happened with “West Side Story”.

  2. Huh. Not sure how your link to “Judge says a teen from a ‘good family’ should not be tried as an adult in sexual assault” shows extremist adoption of the Betsy Ross flag…

    Eventually, all Dem candidates for president will be asked about this – I look forward to hearing if they are for or against Nike’s decision and whether or not this particular flag is a racist symbol.

  3. I believe in equal opportunity, but the world is changing where things are being forced down our throats, TV rating are upmost with the networks & advertising media without offending someone.
    It’s the way of the future, I personally don’t like it, but follow the money and that will account for all the programming advertising of the future. The only way out of this phenomenon is leave this world!!!

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