Our True Colors

SPECIAL EPISODE: The Little Mermaid of Color

September 19, 2022 Season 4 Episode 12
SPECIAL EPISODE: The Little Mermaid of Color
Our True Colors
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Our True Colors
SPECIAL EPISODE: The Little Mermaid of Color
Sep 19, 2022 Season 4 Episode 12

In this special episode of Our True Colors, Yolandie and I discuss Disney's new live action Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey as Ariel. Join us for this important conversation about social expectations and redefining norms.





If this is your first time with OTC, check out EPISODE 1: START HERE for more background on the show.

Our True Colors is sponsored by True Culture Coaching & Consulting. Head to our website to find out how True Culture Coaching and Consulting can support you and your organization. You can find us at truecultureconsulting.com where you can also contact us to schedule a free consultation.

Show Notes Transcript

In this special episode of Our True Colors, Yolandie and I discuss Disney's new live action Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey as Ariel. Join us for this important conversation about social expectations and redefining norms.





If this is your first time with OTC, check out EPISODE 1: START HERE for more background on the show.

Our True Colors is sponsored by True Culture Coaching & Consulting. Head to our website to find out how True Culture Coaching and Consulting can support you and your organization. You can find us at truecultureconsulting.com where you can also contact us to schedule a free consultation.

Transcript by Otter.ai

Welcome to our True Colors hosted by Sean again. Join her as she explores the challenges of being a racial, racial, and ethnic enigma and a cultural conundrum. Let's dive in.

 Shawna  00:22

So Yolandie what's going on?


Yolandie  00:30

Oh, you know, just keeping a tiny human alive. That's all.


Shawna  00:38

That's all.


Yolandie  00:39

That's all.


Shawna  00:40

So you have a new tiny human in your house.


Yolandie  00:43

I do. Miss Olivia was born just after midnight on the eighth of September. And she is absolutely precious. And looking at baby photos. Well, she only has baby photos of her and my son who is 10. And then myself from way back in the 80s. I'm like, this could be the same child. So it's, it's really sweet to see like, the genetic connections. Also, speaking of genetic connections, her face let me just tell you is so expressive. And she lives up to the Virgo axiom of like, if your mouth doesn't say it, your face will. This is only a week old. I can't imagine what I'm in for when you're you know, six, seven, and you've got words to go with it. Like, Oh, yeah. I am in for it.


Shawna  01:37

Well, congratulations. I'm so happy for you. And so excited. I'm just so thrilled. And then here's Yolandie Like, hey, let's do this episode. I'm like, girl. But was I surprised? No, no, not at all.


Yolandie  01:51

This felt important. And I felt like it needed to be talked about. So here we are.


Shawna  01:56

Yeah, so let's talk about it. What are we talking about today?


Yolandie  01:59

We're talking about the new Little Mermaid. Apparently, it's a leaked trailer. It wasn't supposed to be released just yet, apparently. From what I was told. And everyone is in an uproar that this girl has melanin in her skin.


Shawna  02:16

Yeah, so I have seen the trailer and I don't know, I have heard all the little, I shouldn't say all I've heard a lot of the chatter regarding the surprise, disbelief. And also like, some people pretty upset about this. But on the other hand, you know, one of my vices is watching tick tock, I've shared that before. So in one of my late night, tick tock, you know, scroll links, I started to see lots of videos of family members, friends, parents, whomever, sharing this trailer with their children, specifically children who are of color, but then also like, other demographics. And I have to say, it was the very opposite of some of the other chatter that I've seen.


Shawna  03:52

You know, this is such an important discussion, Ilana, because for so long, and in so many capacities, there has been a lack of representation of people of color in lead roles, specifically black women and lead roles. But not only that, like in lead roles in the workplace in other areas of life. If you go to historical buildings, oftentimes, the portraiture on the walls depict either white men or white women. There are so few examples of people of color in these roles. And what makes this especially interesting, is Disney depicted Ariel years ago as being a white mermaid. I guess they have to say mermaid right. You know, And was there anything to say that she couldn't look different?


Yolandie  04:51

Exactly the nothing? Yeah. Other than the fact that I believe the author of the original for retell was Danish. I mean, if you're listening and you know better feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I think he was Danish. And so, I mean, using that perspective, that is literally the only reasoning that I could see as if you followed like the author's perspective. But, again, the author's perspective is limited, at best. And that's true of most stories where they try to play someone of color at the center. Yeah, it's still a very white experience, just with a person of color. And the experience that we've had in life is very different than what you know, Hans Christian Andersen would have had, yeah, his perspective is still very accepted throughout society. Like if he were to relate an experience of walking into I have to put this back in the olden times of baker's, you know, shop and he wanted, you know, some bread, it his experience is going to be very different than someone like me, if I were to have walked into a bigger shop, are we going to get the same attention and kindness? Probably not. It's very, I don't even know how to put it disconcerting, I guess, is the best way to say that, that this anger so many people, when it's like, Finally we're getting our little piece, even if it's not a complete piece, it's a start. It's something Yeah, and the and before this, the only thing that I personally had to relate to was the Cinderella that Whitney Houston directed back in the 90s. Was it 90s, with brandy, as brandy was Cinderella. Whoopi Goldberg was the queen, the prince, I don't remember his name. But he was Asian. Like it was a very mixed, diverse cast. And that, like I remember seeing that as a late teenager, and thinking like, oh, it's like my family. Like, there's all kinds of, you know, skin tones, and, you know, sizes and shapes. And it's very interesting to look at, I guess you could say, and it was normal for me. And then I remember going to school and hearing my friends talk about, well, it doesn't make any sense. How could the Queen be black and the king be white, and the sun be Asian? And then Cinderella is black, too? What is that? And I was so confused by their response, because that was like that I knew. And it made sense to me. It made sense to Whitney, it made sense to all the people who were on set there. And it didn't make sense to all my white friends at school, which is why it's so weird. I think that so many people are up in arms about this experience of like, you know, oh, well, she should be like, she should be nothing like there is no she should be. She can be whatever you want her to be.


Shawna  08:01

Yeah. And you know, just to add some dimension to that. Even if we're considering the author as being Danish. Most of the people who are reacting right now are people who are familiar with Disney's animated version of this right. And the way that Ariel was depicted, then, well, for quite some time, there has been immigration populations within Denmark and other places within Europe. You can be an Italian, because of your nationality. Even if your heritage and your ancestry comes from Africa, you can be Danish, even if your racial heritage so to speak comes from somewhere in the middle east. That doesn't make you any less Danish than someone who is white and as Danish for example. So that's just one thing. And the other thing you know, as you're I'm not familiar with the Whitney Houston Cinderella story, but as you were describing it, it made me think about there was an Alice in Wonderland TV production that had like Sherman Hemsley, if anybody knows, like the Jeffersons, he was George Jefferson. You know, he, he was in that and there was this cast was also quite diverse, you know, the Alice and there was not the main character there. She was not a person of color, but it's just like, like you said, like, Why does one thing why does this only make sense to certain people and not to others, but I think a lot of it has to just do with the schema that we have built and come to accept as well as again, back to it. The default. Yep. Right. Like, think about. Okay, here's another example. I believe there was a production stage production done of Harry Potter. Hermione was cast as a black girl. And there was all of this discussion again about Hermione. Hermione can't be black. Well, who says she can't? Or there's Annie. And Annie is played by a black girl who says Annie has to be white. Yeah, I think it just speaks to Through the way people latch on to something like that. It's that anchoring bias, right? Like, they have anchored themselves to this therefore it cannot be, but it's like, Well, why don't ya says it cannot be?


Yolandie  10:13

Why is this still a problem? In this day and age that a girl who is technically a fish or half fish like,


Shawna  10:21

okay, there's that part. Okay. That part?


Yolandie  10:25

Well, before we get to the fish, the fish, I just want to say that when you touched on the Broadway, that has been a huge issue within the industry as well. As far as casting diverse faces. I remember, it was either right before the pandemic or right after they started to reopen things with the pandemic, my fair lady was cast with her I want to say she was Muslim as the lead. And it caused this uproar of like, you know, oh, well, who is she, this English girl should be white, you know, and there were people who celebrated it as progress. But then the other side still, who was angry that, you know, this person wasn't what they expected. And I think what it really boils down to, like you said, are those expectations that we get so rooted in what we expect that when that expectation doesn't come to fruition? That we kind of freak out? Like, oh, my god, what is this? And some people handle it? Well, and some people don’t?


Shawna  11:26

Well, that's true. But what a beautiful thing it is to see the reactions of these children who can see themselves represented, or can see the people that they love, that are parts of their lives represented, even if they're not a person of color, right? Like, it's just such an amazing thing. And I mean, we're seeing it play out the way that the Academy has hoped for they made demands that, hey, there's going to be changes, and the way that we're doing things, so rightfully so. Right. This hashtag Oscars, so white has been, you know, I think it has made a difference in this, where people are like, yes, you're right, we need to be open to all people, you know, and you could still tell a beautiful story without having to succumb to some outdated, antiquated default mentality as to who you expect to see on a screen or on a stage. Exactly. So, yeah, I it's gonna be an interesting one to see how this goes. All the discussion about Lord of the Rings and how there can't be how can there be black elves and it's stuff like that. It's like, Y'all, by the way, I just wanted to point out it's fiction. So it can be whatever we want it to be. That's the first thing.


Yolandie  12:42

First of all, it's not real with people


Shawna  12:45

All right. So I want to circle back to one thing about Ariel, and the Little Mermaid thing that I hadn't actually thought about back in the day, when the Little Mermaid came out at Disney. But now having this conversation and having been in this world of Dei, you know, talking about diversity, equity inclusion, and what it means to be navigating spaces as a person of color, and other people with other identities, not just race and ethnicity, or the way that they present phenotypically, you know, other things, whether it's being part of the LGBTQI community, whether it's being a person with disabilities, or something like that, is how about the story itself, where this girl is willing to give up aspects of her identity of who she is to be with this prince on land. I know like parents listen to you're probably like, Oh, my God, I just want my kid to be able to see the movie. Why are we going so deep? But yeah…


Yolandie  13:57

I think it says a lot, that of all the stories they could have chosen, of all of the characters that they could have casted in this way. This is the one and more on that in a second. But this is the one that ended up with the girl of color as the heroine. And I don't know it speaks volumes to me also, again, about it's back to that perspective of you know, like, When is it okay, okay, you guys can't see the air quotes, but I'm making air quotes over here, okay, to cast a person of color and when is it not okay to cast a person of color? And it seems like Disney especially don't sue me Disney. Has this like, I don't know what their thought process is behind this because, like looking at other characters that they've done in other recent stories like Tilda Swinton, Playing a Tibetan person, like, come on now.


Shawna  15:04

And I know there's some problematic things out there. So many


Yolandie  15:08

of these that people should be angry about. And yet, we're angry about this one here where the story itself is, you know, she's giving up part of her identity as like to who she is. And that's something that we kind of have to navigate, like you said, through these spaces on a daily basis of with what's the term, I'm losing it. I'm


Shawna  15:30

like, code switching, switching. Yeah. And covering. Yeah.


Yolandie  15:34

And like, you know, when is it okay to have, you know, these aspects of my personality on display? And when do I need to hide them so that I can still feel safe in this space? And that's essentially what she's doing. Although with a little help from a magic, you know, octopus lady, she's code switching.


Shawna  15:53

I do love me some Ursula, the seaweeds I gotta say. I can't wait to see Ursula and I will be singing that song and what I gotta say, I don't know why, why do I pick the villains that I'd love to see. The villains


Yolandie  16:07

to? You're not alone? Yeah, I do. I just think that it's important to think about not only the character and the color of the character's skin, but the trials and tribulations that they're going through as this character. Yeah, just like giving up your identity. That's


Shawna  16:28

that kind of thing is pretty big. And to be honest, straightforward. And again, yeah, like Disney. We're not coming for you. Exactly. But the reality is a lot like the majority of the stories that Disney has put out in this way, whether it's through animations, or live actions, or however they've done it have leaned towards of, you know, favoring patriarchy. Where, you know, the women that are portrayed in the stories are, you know, like, God, and let's not even talk about the grim that grim fairy tales and the real stories and how gruesome they are. Were like in Cinderella, they're like cutting their feet to fit into the damn slipper. Like,


Yolandie  17:12

no, I love me confused, but self mutilation is never the answer. Okay,


Shawna  17:17

I'm just saying, but, but there's so many stories where there is this sort of bowing to patriarchy in some way. And they have tried, I'm gonna give credit, right? Like we have seen new characters, new stories come out that represent people of color in different places, not just some land far far away, which is probably in some European town, right? It's not just Belle, and like a French village, right? We are, we are seeing characters change to be more representative. And it's not just Disney. There's other, you know, production companies that have had some problematic issues when it comes to representation as well. Right? Not just Disney. Right. But it is very exciting to see this with Ariel being played by a black actor. But the story behind it, I would have to say, I'm not sure because of the stories that have come out from Disney, that it would make a difference. Like what if it were Cinderella, then we'd be talking about a black, a black woman being treated. You know what I'm trying to say? Like, it almost doesn't matter. It almost doesn't matter. Because in so many of the stories, the women, whether they're white, or black, or whatever, they have been part of the stratification that's less than a man or they're doing they're losing parts of their identity, or their humanity or whatever, to win something that has been ingrained in us as people for so very long as what one's life aim should be I'm sorry, I love my husband, I love him so much. But my life purpose was not to grow up and find this man that is going to sweep me off my feet and then be my prince and everything that I have is owed to him.


Yolandie  19:13

Yeah, the only example I can think of that reverses that is Aladdin and Jasmine in which he is seeking to give up. He doesn't have much as you know, quote, street rat. But yeah, he would do anything to be with her. And she's just like, all these Princess socks, they can all go back to wherever they came from. And in the end, he still ends up saving her the one with everything like she's the only princess who was like, three, but she's still caged by these societal expectation.


Shawna  19:45

I was gonna say the expectations because she still had she had her independent thinking, but it was still expected that she was going to marry a prince. Right. So yeah, I mean, I think Yolandie We have to Take our wins when we get them. Yep. Also, you know, I think about stories like The Princess and the Frog, I super celebrated when that came out because finally we have a black lead, right? And it was Tiana. And she has dreams and aspirations to open up her own restaurant be independent woman, an entrepreneur, which a lot of black women aim for too. And that was pretty cool. But even in that story, even with the rich white girl who you know, it's kind of her friends. She wants to know, like, there's a line in there where she's like, I want the man catch and Ben yeas.



Jane, underneath about 500 of your main kitchen been Yes, for my bulk.


Shawna  20:43

So even her life was structured to go catch some man. Right? Like that was her aim in life. I mean, I'm glad that we have Princess Tiana. We have the Princess and the Frog and the story to portray a black woman realizing her dreams. But there's still these weird patriarchal things that come through. We're getting there. I want us to take our wins. But we need to I think also acknowledge that with these wins, there's still work to do.


Yolandie  21:11

Yeah, there are so lots of things to take into account. But any progress is progress, as far as I'm concerned. And so I mentioned this earlier, and I haven't gotten back to it yet. So this feels like an appropriate place with the casting. Yeah, this one and the live action, Aladdin that they did are to the best of my knowledge, are the only two that they held auditions for, they made people actually come in, go through the audition process of like reading, singing, like they would do for Broadway. And that's how they found the talent. And this girl, they said was the best. As I said, her, the skin tone did not matter. It didn't matter who you put her up against, she was the best person. For those who came to audition for this show. Where as like live action, Beauty and the Beast, they were like, Let's get Emma Watson, like done deal. Like they they had in mind who they wanted for these roles. And so there was no like fair audition process. So that's another barrier to equal representation, because they latch on to these celebrities who already have a following who made a name for themselves. And they know, again, back to expectations, what to expect from the performance quality of this person, instead of holding auditions to find, you know, quote, new blood that they can integrate into their story. And this was one case where they did hold that fair audition process, and this was the outcome. And so I think it speaks volumes to how they cast and that we need more of that fair process that they need just open auditions to let anybody in everybody come because you will never know who is going to turn up when you hold auditions. And it can be incredibly surprising.


Shawna  23:00

Sure. One of the things that you said was they have these expectations of what to expect from the performance, I would guess that it also comes down to their expectations of what they think the audience expects. So not just the performance of the person, but the reception of the audience. And I think this is so transferable to other business, when we think about an audition, that's the same as having an interview. So if you're a candidate pool, if your net for getting candidates is wide enough, you never know who you're going to get in your candidate pool. And that person might surprise you. But if you've already decided who you're going to put into a position or a role, then how can you have this ability to truly diversify your workforce, whether the workforce is an office full of people or a cast.


Yolandie  23:53

Right. And it's like the old adage, it's not what you know, it's who you know. And I think that a lot of these live action remakes that they've made up to this point, other than the two that I mentioned, have been exactly that it's you know, who they know. And so they call on, you know, who they know, instead of casting that wide net, like you said, to bring in something fresh.


Shawna  24:18

Yeah, it's interesting, but I'm so glad to see things getting shaken up with like I said, we still have a ways to go. But how freaking priceless and precious is it to see so many young children are so excited to see themselves or some representation of themselves on the screen or some representation of someone else in their life that they care about and love on the screen, even if it's not them. And just to see somebody different. Part of the solution is actually showing other people on a screen or on a stage


Yolandie  24:52

or in books, not in the stereotypical way.


Shawna  24:55

Yes, and not that way. That's what I Yes, exactly.


Yolandie  24:59

Do you remember the Cheerios commercial a handful of years ago.


Shawna  25:03

Was it like the first interracial couple Cheerios that like made people lose their freakin minds? Yes,


Yolandie  25:10

I remember the hullabaloo over just that commercial. I was like, this is 30 seconds of a multiracial family on screen, eating cereal. Like it's as wholesome as it gets. It was super innocent like the Cheerios, and people were so mad about it. I didn't understand again, I was just flabbergasted by the response. Speaking of the response, though, this reminds me of another point that I saw someone recently make on Facebook about the parallels between the reaction to this little mermaid trailer and the all female Ghostbusters, a few years ago, in that when they released the the trailer, and people all got angry about it, because it was all women and like, how can you do that? It's all women. Their perspective was that this is a plan from the studio to drum up publicity. And so they're saying basically like, oh, well, they cast her because it was a publicity stunt, basically. And that cheapens the whole, the whole thing to me, and I just felt like, Sure, you can say that, but you really don't have any proof. And who knows? Maybe that's true. Maybe they did see, you know, this actress who gave a stellar audition, and went, you know, what else is a bonus with this? People are going to talk about it, because she's not white and a redhead? And if that's the case, that's also incredibly sad. Yeah, that would be the reasoning behind it. But again, it's still it's one of those like, how, how can I celebrate it if that was the case? And even though I'm going to celebrate it, because we've still made some progress here, like, how to that makes it you know what I mean?


Shawna  26:57

I do. But well, first of all, she still has red hair. That's true. She doesn't read here. And if you want to play around with having red hair, because this is my silliness. On tick tock, there's a really cool filter called Ginger that you can do yourself as a redhead, which is really fun. or green, if you want to go the She Hulk way, you could do that. That's also very popular, tick tock filter right now. But besides that, I have to say, even if people are talking about this, just like we are right now, because of their outrage, or their disbelief, or that they find it to be incredulous. So what, because there have been so many things that have been swept under the rug, or that we've been taught, as taboo we shouldn't discuss over our lifetimes, and the generations before us that we are getting to a point where these discussions are happening. And yeah, there's gonna be a lot of people pissed off or uncomfortable. And that's kind of too bad, because these are discussions that need to be had. And we cannot move forward as a people unless we do and I will tell you this, my personal opinion that I don't think I'm the only one with this opinion, I'm pretty sure it's shared by a lot of folks in the EI community, or in other communities, whatever is this stuff makes people uncomfortable because of fear, I believe there is this inherent fear of loss of control of loss of status of loss of whatever, which is why there are so many people who feel like they have to rack and stack and stratify people based on their identities. And the minute that it seems like that might get disrupted, it causes panic, they just lash out, and it's panic. And so I'm like, Well, I think we can come to expect it to happen. But it needs to happen anyway, if we are to move forward. And finally have people see one another as the human beings they are and not some list of characteristics and attributes that have to do with their physical bodies, or even not even their physical bodies. Like if it's personality, if it's neurological, whatever, like, Y'all kind of get over it. And if you're pissed, you're pissed, but it's a conversation that needs to happen. That's my opinion.


Yolandie  29:17

And I agree with that. It's a conversation that needs to happen that there are too many unwilling to have it. And those are the ones who are lashing out.



Yeah. Yeah. Because people,


Yolandie  29:29

those people will not be listening to this episode. I guarantee it. Most likely they will not. They're the ones who need to be listening. Alright, so y'all who


Shawna  29:38

are listening, pass it along to somebody else so that they can hear this. There's never a guarantee that it will be received or welcomed, but encourage the conversations.


Yolandie  29:50

And that's all we can do is encourage the conversation, because I think things are shifting slowly as you know, all good things do. But it's like we said it's about having the calm rotations. Yeah. And over time, these little kids, I mean, they're gonna grow up someday. And the this little Gen Alpha that's out here now is is going to be in our place, they're going to be the adults in their 30s running the show. And if if we can even give them a small iota of what we've learned in our lifetimes of acceptance, and how to overcome those prejudices and those inherent biases that we have carried around things to our parents, then and that we've shed, we are in for a whole beautiful, better world because they're just gonna run with it as


Shawna  30:44

well. We've seen so I'm Gen X, and my kids are Gen Z, or my son says he's as the lineal but, you know, you just look at even where the young people are now, people who are voting now, you know, or getting ready to be able to vote. They're coming of age for that. And so yeah, imagining your little one, and tie and where the world's going to be. So let's celebrate that. Well, thank you Yolandie. For this time and for wanting to have this conversation, and congratulations to you again. So wonderful. You've been listening to our true colors.