‘The Little Mermaid’ Struggles in China Amid Racism Debate

The Little Mermaid (Credit: Disney)

The Little Mermaid swam to a domestic opening of $95.4 million over three days and $117.5 million with Monday factored in, making it the fifth best Memorial Day weekend debut of all-time.

But internationally, the film hasn’t performed as well and earned just $68.3 million abroad, according to box office tracking company Comscore.

The problem was particularly bad in China, a key international market, where the film rang up just $2.5 million over the weekend. The movie is China’s lowest-earning Disney release this year.

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In comparison, Fast X earned $17.6 million in weekend ticket sales from Chinese moviegoers, according to figures from Artisan Gateway. To date, the tenth installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise has made over $110 million in China.

The-Numbers reports The Little Mermaid grossed $185.8 million worldwide from Friday-Monday. But with a reported $250 million budget, plus millions of dollars in global marketing costs, it will be difficult for the film to turn a profit.

The live-action remake of the 1989 animated Disney classic tells the story of Ariel, a beautiful and spirited young mermaid with a thirst for adventure.

Singer and actress Halle Bailey leads the cast as Ariel. Jonah Hauer-King co-stars as her dashing prince, alongside Melissa McCarthy and Javier Bardem.

Since Bailey was cast in 2019, some racists and die-hard fans of the animated original have taken issue with a woman of color playing fictional redhead Ariel.

The Global Times, a state-run tabloid in China, accused Disney of “political correctness” by casting an African-American actress in the lead role.

“Many Chinese netizens said that like ‘Snow White’ the image of the mermaid princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales has long been rooted in their hearts and it takes a leap of imagination to accept the new cast,” the paper said in an editorial picked up by Variety.

The editorial continued, “The controversy surrounding Disney’s forced inclusion of minorities in classic films is not about racism, but its lazy and irresponsible storytelling strategy.”

Meanwhile, some social media users accused Disney of bowing to pressure from China after Bailey’s face was made blue in the official Chinese posters.

“The Little Mermaid poster in China opts for a blue tone instead of showing she’s black like the American poster. What’s up with that @Disney,” wrote Twitter user @outtaminds.

“The Little Mermaid Posters in China hide her Race. You may have thought The Walt Disney Company was above pulling a John Boyega ‘hide the Black actor’ trick again. You were wrong,” added entertainment analyst @wdwpro1.

“China tries to blame (Disney) for the supposed poor showing of TLM for its casting of a Black girl as the Mermaid, meanwhile Fast X, with its diverse cast does just Okay, vs past F&F films; while China says they aren’t racist to appease Africa,” added Twitter user @Pauline98476699.

Moviegoers in the U.S. embraced The Little Mermaid, giving it a 95 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, from over 5,000 verified audience critiques.