With the recent launch of Amazon's new Lord of the Rings show, HBO's Game of Thrones spin-off, and Disney's trailer for The Little Mermaid, the debate around the casting of black actors for what were previously conceived and portrayed as white roles seems as endless as it is tiring.

The internet is flooded with praise, backlash, backlash to the backlash, and, how else could it be, a complete absence of nuance. Unless you spent the past few months under a rock, you will have heard that if you oppose casting black actors for white roles, you're a racist bigot, if you support it, you're a woke idiot.

While I have little to say about the endless dissecting of 'authentic' casting choices in any of these cases, there is one matter surrounding Disney's upcoming live-action fairy tale that still makes me shrug.

Reading through the positive reviews of the trailer, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be that the film is a 'win for representation'. Really? Is it? One has to wonder how low the bar is then.

Adapting the adapted adaptation of the source material


The 'original' Little Mermaid is a fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson from 1837. Original in the sense that it was the first work to bear this exact title, but in terms of plot it was adapted from slightly earlier source material by German author Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. Disney later used the Anderson version to reinterpret the story once again and thus released an animated film under the same title, 1989's The Little Mermaid.

Fast forward three decades and we are now about to see Disney's live-action adaptation of this adapted and reinterpreted source material. Since we live in an age where any casting choice is likely to draw criticism, outrage, and spite from either side of the sociocultural spectrum, it appears as though Disney chose to commit to neither faction in an attempt to appease everyone, and ultimately please no one. Not that surprising however, after all, the tightrope that is representation is getting tighter with each day.

Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that those who care most about representation see the casting of Halle Bailey for the role of the Little Mermaid as a win and not a mere attempt of virtue signalling. How has representation been increased when everything apart from a few black faces screams Scandinavian mythology from the 19th century?

Not to speak of the gruesome and, unfortunately, predictable amount of racist slandering that Bailey has had to suffer ever since her casting was first announced. The trailer of the film gathered a staggering 1.5 million dislikes on YouTube in the span of just two days and the comment section is still being flooded with trolls adding fuel to the fire. But see for yourself!

The Book of Drexciya


Although I do not consider Disney's half-hearted attempt of contributing to the better representation of black culture a win, I still think they could have had an absolute knockout success with little to zero backlash for the film studio or anyone involved in the project.

Given the endless reinterpreting of a certain lore, one has to wonder why those who seem to prioritise representation above all would seek to continue straying further away from an original idea instead of just picking one that suits their goals.

In other words, if you are cooking a recipe and consider replacing the vast majority of ingredients, maybe, just maybe, you should pick another recipe. The one in front of you clearly is not to your taste, so why keep on changing every single aspect about it instead of opting for something that corresponds to your inclination.

If your goal is to bring an underwater myth about black people to the big screen, then why not choose source material that is precisely about that? I am sure few among those reading this article have ever heard about the Book of Drexciya, which, I think, already proves my point to a certain degree.

To quickly summarise, Drexciya was a musical duo active in Detroit from the early 1990s to the early 2000s. James Stinson and Gerald Donald, two black musicians, composed more than just sounds, however, they built an entire Afrofuturist nautical mythology, which was later brought to life with the help of a series of graphic novelists and illustrators, the majority of whom are also black.

The Book of Drexciya thus explores the story of an underwater realm established by the children of pregnant African slave women, who were thrown overboard by their abductors during the crossing of the Atlantic. According to these tale, the children were born in the sea, and never having breathed fresh air, they developed the ability to breath underwater. In case this has sparked your curiosity, you might want to have a look at the short video report below for more details on the creation of the Drexciyan legend.

A missed opportunity rather than a win for representation


In my view, a true win for representation would have been the decision to abstain from rehashing an old story and pick something more relevant and suitable to discuss issues relating to black culture in particular. I am not saying that it has to be the Book of Drexciya, that is just a mere example that I was aware of with no research whatsoever. I am certain the possibilities are endless.

But, for argument's sake, the Drexciyan myth would have allowed Disney to expose an Afrofuturist underwater myth, created by black authors, illustrated and narrated by black novelists, scored by black musicians, revolving around black people, and inspired by a historical reality unique to black people.

Instead, what we are about to get is an old tale that is being bent in a fruitless attempt to simultaneously appease progressive critics without upsetting conservative fans. Regardless of how well-made the film ends up being, I cannot help but think that it represents a win for those with low expectations, and a missed opportunity for those truly interested in promoting black culture to a global audience.