Better World

Viral Twitter thread of reactions to the Little Mermaid trailer shows the importance of representation in media

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Parents have been posting their kids’ heartwarming reactions to the newly released trailer for the live action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid on social media, and the positive responses have been flooding in. 

The film stars Halle Bailey, a Black woman, as the main character Ariel—and the parents of young Black and brown kids have taken to social media to share the joyful reactions of their children when they first notice that Ariel is a woman of color. 

One three-year-old’s adorable reaction was shared via the account @preciousavery on TikTok: “I think she’s brown! Brown Ariel! Brown Ariel is cute.” Another particularly moving reaction video posted originally by @nickyknackpaddywack on TikTok shows a child struck speechless with excitement by the trailer, eventually managing to get out the words, “She’s brown like me, mom!”

A recent viral Twitter thread by the account @normanination4 compiled many of these reactions and shared a message about the power of representation of diverse characters in media. In the thread, she Tweets at the film’s star, “@HalleBailey, you’re about to impact so many little black kids’ lives with this movie. I hope you know how inspiring and amazing you are. Bless you!”

Why is representation in children’s media important?

Kids develop their understanding of the world in part through the media they consume, such as books, TV shows, and movies. The representations they see in the media of people like themselves as well as people who are different from themselves have a lasting impact on the ways they understand and treat people based on their race, ethnicity, or other identities.

Babies as young as three months old can recognize racial differences. By the age of three, kids are already developing racial biases that are partially influenced by the media they interact with. A report by Common Sense Media concluded that people of color are underrepresented in movie and TV roles, and when they are depicted, they’re often stereotyped. The report found that characters of color in most children’s shows were also more likely to be depicted as violent.

Diverse representation in media not only counters harmful stereotypes—it can provide aspirational role models and boost self-esteem for kids who see characters like themselves in media. It can be a powerful influence for a child from a historically underrepresented background to see someone like themselves playing a leader, a doctor, or even a mermaid. 

More family movies with diverse characters 

The Little Mermaid will be in theaters worldwide on May 26, 2023. While you wait for the big day, there are plenty of other great kid-friendly movies with diverse characters your family can watch together in the meantime. Here are just a few examples—

  • Encanto (PG): This Disney movie is about a special family named the Madrigals, who live in the mountains of Colombia, in a magical house. It features lots of strong and complex Latina characters and celebrates each one’s unique talents.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (PG): In this rendition of the comic book classic, a teen from Brooklyn named Miles Morales is in the lead role. Miles is biracial, with a Black father and a Puerto Rican mother—and, in fact, the entire film is a celebration of the diversity of America, with different versions of Spiderman of all different identities uniting for a common cause.
  • Black Panther (PG-13): This Marvel movie is about a fictional African nation called Wakanda, and the superhero Black Panther who must protect it. This groundbreaking movie was the first in the Marvel Universe to focus on a superhero of color. Not only that, it was also directed by Black director and the cast consists almost entirely of people of color. 
  • Hidden Figures (PG): This film centers the inspiring true story of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan—the brilliant Black women behind the success of NASA’s Space Race program. Black women in particular are largely underrepresented in STEM fields, so this movie is full of role-models for young STEM-lovers. 
  • Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (G): This list wouldn’t be complete without the 1997 live action remake of Cinderella. The Little Mermaid remake has been drawing lots of comparisons to this film, and how uplifting it was for Black girls in the 90s to see themselves reflected in Brandy Norwood’s depiction of the princess, as a Black woman. 

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.