Seeing ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Barbie’ through a Black lens

(Compton Bulletin/News4usonline) – Some may not realize it or choose not to care, but summer 2023 was truly groundbreaking for women and girls alike. When I say this I’m talking about big blockbuster films, which many know these films tend to have more of focus on superheroes, giant monsters, or topics that stereotypically cater to male audiences.

Although it was just two films it still seems like a lot for stories that revolve around the value of femininity. “The Little Mermaid” ($566.6 million) and “Barbie” ($1.1 billion) both hit the Top 10 marker globally in box office sales this summer. It’s been such a crazy turnout to witness in real time. According to Box Office Mojo, “Barbie” is No. 2 worldwide in box office sales. “The Little Mermaid” is holding at No. 7.

This is pretty cool. Having Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” released on Memorial Day weekend kicked started the blockbuster period. Both “Barbie” and “The Little Mermaid” provided monumental moments in film history. With a Black actress lead to play Ariel who was white in the cartoon sparked unnecessary uproar because the character is a mermaid and there are seven official Disney princesses that are white.

There has only been one Black Disney princess (disappointed is an understatement) fortunately another is coming in the new movie “Wish,” so I am glad to see little girls now can witness a Black princess in their childhood. As someone who deeply loves the princesses and still loves to this day, I believe seeing Black women in this perspective is very crucial when considering how Black women and girls are perceived in the world.

We can be feminine, soft, and sweet and even if we are strong there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We are not one thing or the other. There is more to the world than putting people, especially little girls in a box and telling them to like it.

Much to my surprise Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” discussed this exact idea but used the film to send this message for everyone. Like everyone else, I actually had no clue what to expect from this film thinking it will be mostly a comedy musical and perhaps a beautiful dialogue about life, but I left that theater still shocked and in tears.

The whole film deals with this idea of women questioning whether they are enough. Enough of what exactly doesn’t matter. What matters is being just enough, to live, exist, and get through life without the feeling of someone else always expecting something of you and judging you for not doing things their way and being perfect.

Another concept I got from this was from America Ferrera’s dialogue and the scene “Barbie” has at the end with Ruth and how mothers try their best to prepare their daughters to adapt into the grown-up world of adulthood and their daughters needing to eventually understand that mothers were girls once themselves.

Having childhood male friends like Ken discover patriarchy and how that can damage men and women alike is a unique spin on the film as well. We cannot simply exist. We always have to do something extraordinary but be humble about it.

As a young woman myself, these two films came out at a perfect time in my life and I know I am not the only one who feels this way. What is so beautiful is that both “The Little Mermaid” and “Barbie,” both iconic reflections of heroine’s beauty and grace, venture into new realms only to learn that the real world is nowhere near what they expected.

They learn to feel, cry, and still make the decision to not let the real world scare them away from what they want.

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