Recently, K-Pop fans have reacted to a narrative pushed by Western media outlets that the reasons behind Disney‘s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid “flopping” in South Korea was due to racism.
When the film was released, many Korean fans had positive reactions to the movie and particularly praised Halle Bailey‘s interpretation of the role.
- Halle Bailey’s acting, her innocent portrayal of Ariel, and her beautiful vocals washed away the shortcomings of the original Ariel.
- I heard that this was the best Disney movie ever made, but I went in without giving it much thought, and then Disney revealed its harmonious world, and then I cried in the beginning and in the end. I will say more later.
- “I became interested after seeing how many criticisms the movie had, but I was so surprised at how well (Halle Bailey” sings. I’m really curious, and so I might go to the theatres for the first time in years.”
As expected, there were also added expectations after it was revealed that NewJeans member Danielle was dubbing the movie’s Korean version.
Yet, it seems like a “racist” rhetoric has been brought back to the forefront of Western media when speaking about the “lack of success” the movie had in Asian countries, including South Korea.
Western media outlet The Hollywood Reporter shared a video with the caption, “#TheLittleMermaid tanks in both China and South Korea amid a racist backlash over the casting of #HalleBailey in the role of Ariel #THRNews.” The video says Halle Bailey’s casting was the reason the movie was struggling in South Korea, where it earned 4.4 million dollars.
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) June 6, 2023
When K-Pop fans saw the video, it wasn’t surprising that many shared their anger at the alleged racism that led to the movie “Flopping.”
In particular, they shared their anger that South Korea still has these racist views, especially considering the K-Pop industry takes influences from Black culture.
It's funny how South Korea leeches off of hip hop and rap, music genres created by Black Americans, and yet they can't stand the fact that a black person plays Ariel in The Little Mermaid https://t.co/gdk96dub6j
— CEO of Misty Brightdawn (Spiderverse/MLP spoilers) (@Inter_Soup) June 8, 2023
K-Pop South Korea?!??? rappin ass, hip hop and r&b ass SOUTH KOREA?!?!? Pleaaseeee 🤣🤣 https://t.co/qR5uceWELk
— Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz & Roses (@Kyla_Lacey) June 7, 2023
Hating black people while simultaneously basing so much of KPOP's sound and image on the cosplaying of blackness is actually wild business. https://t.co/wCm8fqlmRN
— Sisa (@TheTitanBaddie) June 7, 2023
Others shared that K-Pop and Korean society has “imitated” black culture, taking parts of their identity and often being accused of cultural appropriation.
south korea?? the country whose most popular music genre (multibillion dollar industry btw) capitalizes off of imitating black people and black culture ???????
doesn’t get more dystopian than that lol https://t.co/0dJt0sorc9
— the chalant girl 🌳 (@oromoAF) June 7, 2023
— ⚜️ (@RobbBeaux) June 7, 2023
K-Pop fans shared their own anger at the deemed racism, but others came to the defense of Koreans and the allegations from Western media. Some netizens shared that it didn’t seem to be a matter of race, but the storyline with comparisons to other Disney movies…
So that Hollywood Reporter article saying Little Mermaid isn't doing well in South Korea and China because Ariel is Black got me curious.
From the look of things, I don't think South Korean audiences care about the story regardless of race. 1/4 pic.twitter.com/aPmKgtCBrs
— The Reel Jon, PNG Movie Reviewer (@TheReelJon) June 7, 2023
While others pointed out that films with a predominantly Black cast have succeeded in the countries, with many pointing out the example of the Marvel movie Black Panther.
‘The Little Mermaid’ tanks in China and South Korea amid racist backlash from some viewers'
Very one sided conclusion from CNN. There's been a lot of movies with black leads that have had a warm reception in Korea. The movie didn't flop because of racehttps://t.co/wC1AV2GwCh pic.twitter.com/JSWBvk2CVR
— Kimchi Premium (@kimchipump) June 6, 2023
One fan even shared a photo of statistics for the move. While Western media outlets slammed the lack of popularity of the movie in South Korea and China, a photo shows that it’s one of the countries with the highest opening weekend profits and box office totals.
While it is easy to go along with the narratives set by Western media outlets and the outcry for the allegations from K-Pop fans is warranted, the overall consensus of the movie seems far from the assumptions.
There is no doubt that racism is still an issue within Korea. Yet, although the numbers might not add up, netizens’ reviews of the film and other narratives seem to push the “racist” allegations away.
You can read more about Koreans’ views of the film below.