Twitter banned a user who shared a modified, racist clip from Disney’s new live action The Little Mermaid Wednesday. The tweaked video turned the skin of singer and actress Halle Bailey, who plays Ariel, from Black to white.
The clip, which was shared earlier this week by user @vandalibm, led to widespread outrage on Twitter, where it quickly started spreading like wildfire. Tweeters were not only flabbergasted that someone had whitewashed Bailey and changed her features, including cartoonishly reddening her hair, but also pointed out the irony that whoever created the clip made no modifications to her voice, seeming to indicate that they found it acceptable.
Unfortunately, there’s more. In the original post sharing the modified video, @vandalibm claimed that the Ariel had been “fixed,” and that the entire movie could also be “fixed” in 24 hours upon its release in May of 2023. Attempting to find the account now returns an “Account suspended” message.
Crediting the video’s original creator, @vandalibm wrote, “He fixed The Little Mermaid, and turned the woke actor into a ginger white girl,” @vandalibm said. “He says he can do fix [sic] the entire movie when it comes out with 4x A6000 in 24 hours. It’s over for wokecels.” In a follow-up tweet, @vandalibm stressed that he shared the clip purely for “educational purposes.”
“This is purely for educational purposes, please do not misinterpret this in a racist way,” @vandalibm wrote. “I am just amazed by high-IQ friend [sic] who works with Artificial Intelligence and the stuff he can make, and wanted to show people his field of study.”
Gizmodo reached out to Disney for comment on the modified video but did not receive a response.
In an email, a Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo that @vandalibm was suspended for violating its ban evasion policy. This suggests that this isn’t the first time the person running the account has engaged in foul behavior.
The “he” and “friend” @vandalibm refers to in his tweets is user @TenGazillionIQ, a self-proclaimed Ph.D. in artificial intelligence and computer vision who @vandalibm claims originally made the modified video clip. A tweet @TenGazillionIQ posted on Tuesday in which he addresses new followers he got “from that Ariel thing” suggests that @vandalibm might be telling the truth, but the account itself did not share the edited video. Gizmodo has reached out to the account for comment.
As of Wednesday morning, @vandalibm’s account had been suspended from Twitter. @TenGazillionIQ’s account had not been suspended.
The release of the teaser trailer for The Little Mermaid four days ago, which features Bailey singing “Part of Your World,” has provoked an enormous amount of racist backlash on social media. Bailey posted a video of happy fan reactions to the clip on Instagram on Tuesday.
Mary Beltrán, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in critical studies at the intersections of film and television, told Gizmodo via email that it was unfortunate to see that there are individuals who are uncomfortable with seeing lead characters who are not played by white actors.
Although Beltrán said she was not aware of a digital substitution like this happening at other times in film history, the professor underscored that in the early history of film musicals, musical numbers featuring African American singers or dancers were included in a way so “that they were not necessary to the progression of the narrative.” This was done knowing that theaters in the South often cut out the scenes with American Americans and would only show all-white films.
“What we used to also see far more often in film and television history was the common acceptance of actors of European American heritage playing characters of color. We might think of John Wayne as Genghis Kahn, Marlon Brando as Emiliano Zapata, and Katharine Hepburn as Jade Tan, a Chinese woman,” Beltrán explained. “Individuals of color in narratives adapted to film or television also have often become white characters, as was the case for Jennifer Connelly’s character in A Beautiful Mind and for Shiri Appleby’s character in the original Roswell series.”
Pointing out that 40% of Americans, as well as 50% of American youth under 18 years old, are not white in 2022, Beltrán said that it made a lot of sense that we’re seeing more protagonists that are of African American, Latino, Asian American, and of Indigenous heritage.
“We all want and deserve to see representation that we can identify with,” Beltrán stated.
Update 9/15/2022, 6:45 p.m. ET: This post has been updated with additional comment from Beltrán and Twitter.