Hidden Racism. Discussions about The Witcher, Arielle and Co.

Ever since Netflix published its casting paper for the series adaption of The Witcher,  it raised discussions about so-called “blackwashing”. Self-proclaimed experts are calling film makers out for casting black actors for roles that they expect to be white, only because of political correctness. But back to the start.

Netflix show runner for the Witcher-series, Lauren S. Hissrich first released a casting call for the main role of Ciri in October 2018. The call said that she is looking for a 15- or 16-year-old BAME girl to play the role. BAME stands for black, asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Only shortly after, a petition on change.org was published against that casting call saying that The Witcher is set in an Eastern European fantasy world and therefore the best (presumptively white) and not the most diverse actor should be casted. Over 50 000 people signed that petition.

There’s one big problem that needs to be addressed here: Why do people think that they could influence the creative process of a film maker? Shouldn’t it be completely up to the creative mastermind(s) to decide who and what they want to include in their artistic product? That was also the case with the last season of Game of Thrones, with fans being so unhappy with the outcome that they launched a petition that got well over two million signatures. Not only this way petitions do lose a lot of power they could possess, it’s also unfair and unjust towards the creators.

Once the cast was announced, it was clear that 16-year old white Brit Freya Allen is going to portray Ciri. But still then, some fans had something to criticize: for another major role, Fringilla, Mimi Ndiweni was casted. As her name suggests, she is of black origin. This caused another outcry against Netflix and this decision, some even calling for another petition.

Much worse is the case with Arielle. The Disney animation film of 1989 about mermaids is getting a real film version. For the title role of Arielle, actor Halle Bailey was casted.  And yet again there were discussions by about her complexion, people saying that “her” Arielle was white, had red hair and that it should stay that way. The hashtag #NotMyAriel was for quite some time trending on Twitter. Dozens of users complained about the skin color of Halle Bailey. One user even edited the picture of Halle Bailey:

“She lives underwater, how could she be black?”

In comparison to what followed that seems nearly harmless. Some users on Twitter started arguing with “science”. They said that Arielle couldn’t possibly be black since she livesd underwater and the sun didn’t reach her there. Except for the obvious ridiculousness, it’s sad that people still bring up this kind of “biological” theories as an “explanation”. One could think that we’re long over that kind of racist theories, but it shows that even for a fantasy character people still argue this way.

It wasn’t for long until Disney got a response ready. The TV channel Freeform, which is owned by the Disney company responded on Instagram stating the following:

Yes. The original author of ‘The Little Mermaid’ was Danish. Ariel…is a mermaid. She lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can legit swim wherever she wants (even though that often upsets King Triton, absolute zaddy). But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Ariel, too, is Danish. Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black. Black Danish people, and thus mer-folk, can also *genetically* (!!!) have red hair. But spoiler alert – bring it back to the top – the character of Ariel is a work of fiction. So after all this is said and done, and you still cannot get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly-talented, gorgeous Halle Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that it is because she “doesn’t look like the cartoon one”, oh boy, do I have some news for you… about you.

Some bring up sentiments form their childhood as a reason for why they don’t want Halle Bailey in that role. But what is that for a memory if the only thing that connects you to your childhood is the complexion of a mermaid, which is (just as a reminder) a creation of pure fantasy? Maybe this isn’t about Disney or their decision. Maybe this about you. Because Disney always included black mermaids also in past films, because they are not racist, opposed to some of their fans.

And generally: Why on earth should the color of skin still be a casting criterion? Nowadays, we should be able to move on and let only the skill of acting decide. One good example for this is theatre, especially, the Globe in London. There every role can be played by everyone. Iago can be an Asian woman, Ophelia a white man. At first, this decision faced critic, but with time, the target of critique was turned around. Now, not the directors have to explain themselves, but people who want complexion to be a thing again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.