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‘The Little Mermaid’ tanks in Asia after racist backlash

The Little Mermaid is being panned in several international markets due to the racial response against the casting of black actress Halle Bailey as Ariel.

The movie grossed only $3.6 million in its first ten days of release in China, making it by far the weakest performer among Disney’s live-action adaptations. The film is likewise doing poorly in South Korea, where it has made $4.4 million as of June 4.

According to sources close to the film as well as box office analysts, Disney was aware that Little Mermaid would face issues but was taken aback by the depth of the criticism and its impact.

The social media backlash over Bailey’s casting has been very vocal in both markets. According to sources, this has led to unsubstantiated crowd evaluations slamming the film. Such assessments have even made headlines in South Korea.

In China, negative crowd reviews have also proliferated on social media. And, just before the film’s release in that country, the government-affiliated The Global Times published an editorial criticizing Disney’s motivations.

“The controversy surrounding Disney’s forced inclusion of minorities in classic films is not about racism, but rather about its lazy and irresponsible storytelling strategy,” the op-ed wrote.

“Many Chinese netizens said that like in ‘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 writer also questioned if Disney’s “political correctness” is driven by monetary gain or a genuine concern for representation.

Bailey was cast in the role in the summer of 2019 after a lengthy search that involved hundreds of females.

“She immediately set the bar so high that no one surpassed it,” director Rob Marshall told THR last month. “We saw people of all races.” There was no intention of casting a woman of color. It was really just a matter of saying, ‘Let’s find the best Ariel,’ and Halle stepped up to the plate.”

Bailey’s performance has received widespread praise from critics and (verified) audiences alike.

Since the pandemic began, Hollywood earnings in China have dropped considerably. Fast X and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 have been the greatest hits in the United States this year, with current totals of around $125 million and $78.8 million, respectively.

These are solid figures, but far less than the predecessors of each franchise. In China, F9: The Fast Saga (2021) grossed $217 million, F8 (2017) grossed $392.8 million, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) grossed $100 million. All other American tentpoles have performed substantially worse this year.

“It’s disappointing,” a Little Mermaid insider admits.

“We did not expect the racist reaction and, as a result, for the picture to underperform internationally,” says a source outside the studio who tracks the success of Hollywood event films.

Despite objections from some regarding Bailey’s casting, The Little Mermaid has enjoyed good box-office success in the United States. The film has grossed more than $186 million in its first ten days, putting it on a level with the blockbuster live-action hit Aladdin.

Little Mermaid plummeted an estimated 58 percent in North America in its second weekend as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hit theaters.

According to box office estimates, Little Mermaid might gross $350 million domestically. The domestic gross for Aladdin was $355.6 million.

Another important market for Little Mermaid is Japan, where it will open in the coming days (Aladdin grossed a massive $112.5 million there).

The film’s strong verified audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as the film’s promising start in North America, are highlighted in Disney’s final marketing push in Japan. The studio is also continuing to emphasize Bailey’s success.

Internationally, analysts claim it is more difficult to resist user evaluations that are written in bad faith.

“Domestically, you can search by verified [audience] reviews,” one box office analyst observes. “Internationally, you cannot.”

Have you seen The Little Mermaid yet? What did you think about the movie overall? Leave your comments down below. Go ahead and sign-up for our newsletter so you can be part of our growing community.

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