• New casting "colorblind" for Disney and new controversy on social networks. After the choice of Halle Bailey, a black actress, to play Ariel in "The Little Mermaid", the web ignited with #Notmyariel hashtags and artificial intelligence (AI) to whiten the skin of the heroine.
  • The opportunity for the far right to impose a new "cultural war" and show once again its opposition to the term as broad as it is meaningless: "wokism".
  • For Achraf Ben Brahim, author of Why the Far Right Dominates the Web, digital technology is now used to impose topics on the Internet... away from the ballot box.

Once upon a time in a universe where culture is becoming more and more political. At the heart of the ruthless kingdom of social networks, The Little Mermaidwill not escape. Since the announcement of an adaptation by Disney and until its release in theaters this Wednesday, a debate has flooded the web: Ariel is now played by a black actress, Halle Bailey.

The news could have stopped there and why not cause some rejoicing for, for example, these little black girls fans of Disney who will finally be able to identify with a heroine. But a heavy specter stirred over the kingdom, that of racism. For supporters of the far right, The Little Mermaid is ultimately only blessed bread to alert once again the web around "the dangerousness of wokism".

"A cultural struggle"

This is what Achraf Ben Brahim - author of Why the Far Right Dominates the Web published by L'aube - calls "the culture war". "It's a fight that's not recent, it's a cultural fight. It is not illogical that it is conducted on social networks since today the far right no longer pulls, the far right no longer sticks posters. The space of expression that they have conquered as a priority is digital." Added to this is the fact that the far right is struggling to emerge victorious from the ballot box and thus must find new ways to exist and continue to create indignation, with some success.

And for good reason, the semblance of controversy over the reinterpretation of Andersen's tale of 1837 ends up becoming for months a trend on social networks. "They are very organized and manage to raise a topic. But also, they manage to bring together all the trends. Whether you are reactive or identitarian, it always makes you react. Here, it is not the great replacement or defense of the white man that is invoked. It is rather the fight against Wokism," says Achraf Ben Brahim. The debate invoked ultimately lies less in the authenticity of Andersen's work than in the defense of the "white race".

Smoky theories

In the United States, the mechanism remains the same. It can be even worse. As soon as Hailee Bieber announced the interpretation of Ariel, the hashtag #NotMyAriel resurfaced constantly on social networks. Far-right influencers have even tried to demonstrate that it is impossible for a mermaid to be black. Underwater, it would not be exposed to the sun and would therefore lack melatonin. A lacklustre demonstration that seems to forget that mermaids are above all fantastic works. On Twitter, Internet users have even tried with artificial intelligence (AI) to whiten Ariel's skin.

Gotta be honest, I figured our dystopian future would include horrors like deepfake revenge porn and AI bot catfishing, but I was not expecting "using AI to whitewash diverse movie characters."

I regret the error and I promise to be even more pessimistic going forward. pic.twitter.com/2cZi1fBfaB

— Max Kennerly (@MaxKennerly) September 13, 2022

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For Achraf Ben Brahim, this umpteenth controversy shows above all a certain failure of our society "to consider in a clear and peaceful way the question of plurality". Take the example of Omar Sy. Why when the black actor played a role of delinquent in Untouchable or undocumented migrant in Samba, it questioned less than when the latter took over the role of Arsène Lupin in the Netflix series?

A never-ending story

It seems above all that this debate also touches on symbolic works, those of our childhood in the case of Andersen. But it is not the only one. At the time of the release of the series House of Dragon, the presence of a black family - House Velaryon - in the cast had also disturbed many Internet users. The actor playing Corlys, Steve Toussaint, reacted to these racist remarks in the columns of the Guardian. "Oh, I understand. When we were pirate and slave criminals in the other series, you agreed. But since this character is the richest on the show and he's noble, you have a problem with that."

Last fall, the release of the series The Rings of Power on Amazon was also accused of betraying Tolkien's work by including racialized actors in the cast.

What if Andersen agreed?

As for The Little Mermaid, as soon as the film was released on Wednesday, critics were obviously not lacking. On Allociné, for example, comments castigate the casting. "How to appreciate a film at its true value when it is intended to promote an ideology (wokism)," wonders one user. "The actress of Vanessa [Ursula's alter-ego on earth], obviously white huh, would have been perfect in the role of Ariel," imagines a second. It turns out that most of these accounts were created very recently solely for the purpose of attacking the film's choices.

Finally, it would be good to remember that the author of this tale, Hans Christan Andersen, is considered above all as a very modern author for his time. If the author is indeed Danish, it has never been specified where the story was located. Only this indication remains at the beginning of the tale: "Far away in the sea, the water is blue [...], but so deep that it would be useless to anchor there".

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