Updated May 24, 2023, 4:38pm EDT
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Chinese nationalists echo US right’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ talking points

Halle Bailey
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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The News

American right-wing figures last year blasted Disney for being “woke” by casting Halle Bailey, a Black actress and singer, as Ariel in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. Now, Chinese nationalists are doing the same.

State tabloid Global Times on Wednesday published an English-language op-ed describing the film — which will be released on Friday — as ”lazy storytelling,” arguing that casting Bailey lowered the film’s potential.

“Many Chinese netizens said that like Snow White, the image of the mermaid princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales has long been deeply rooted in their hearts, and it takes a leap in imagination to accept the new cast,” the article reads.

The sentiment is the latest example of the unexpected confluence between American right-wing and Chinese state media talking points.

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Know More

Conversation in China of The Little Mermaid has almost entirely focused on Ariel’s skin color, with bloggers questioning why Ariel’s sisters are different races and many commentators on Maoyan — one of China’s largest movie-enthusiast apps — criticizing Hollywood for being ”politically correct" with its casting choices.


Those sentiments echo comments made by right-wing Americans when the film’s first trailer was released last year. Many, using the hashtag #NotMyAriel, argued that Disney was too focused on cultural issues rather than film production, or that casting a Black actress misrepresented Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s original story.

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The View From Weibo

The debate over Ariel’s race was more balanced on Weibo — a Chinese microblogging app similar to Twitter. While several users appeared to side with the sentiment reflected in articles like that from Global Times, others pushed back.

“The Little Mermaid can be played by a person of any ethnicity: She is just a fish and a fantasy creature and her character is beautiful,” wrote one user. “The singing voice is more important; her skin color and race are not the key points here.”

Many on Weibo have also rejected accusations from some Western Twitter users that the movie poster being used in China hid Ariel’s skin color: The poster in question is not exclusive to China and has also been used in Western media.

Disney did not immediately respond to Semafor’s request for comment.

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Step Back

While American right-wing figures are often extremely critical of China, their views often echo some Chinese state-media talking points, and vice versa.

During the spy balloon crisis this year, several Republican commentators and politicians pushed conspiracy theories that the U.S. government and media were using the controversy to distract from an Ohio train derailment and chemical disaster, which at the time had also been a focal point of Chinese state media.

Some Republican lawmakers have also promoted Chinese state media to criticize U.S. involvement in the Ukraine war, with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) notably citing a Global Times "investigative report" during a congressional hearing as evidence that the U.S. had been sending too many weapons to Ukraine.

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  • Black people in China struggle to navigate an incredibly homogenous society with limited exposure to non-white races, historian Marketus Presswood wrote in The Atlantic. He documented his own experience working as a teacher in China, sharing stories of how students had difficulty comprehending his American identity simply because of his skin color.