Opinion: Let’s Talk About Gabriella, a Latina Mermaid Who Debuted in 1993 and Was Based on a Real-Life Fan
With the advent of social media came a vocal minority of people who couldn’t help spout bigotry whenever possible, especially when it came to the changing norms of pop culture. Never mind that white actors had been playing roles depicting people of color for literal centuries. No, the biggest problem facing our country right now is the fact that the new Little Mermaid is Black.
It’s a foolish discourse not only because a vast majority of the people complaining had no intention of seeing the movie in the first place, regardless of whether Ariel was white, but also because there has already been a Latina mermaid featured in this franchise as far back as 1993, just four years after the original movie was released in 1989.
Gabriella was introduced in “The Little Mermaid: The Series” as a Latina mermaid who was deaf and communicated through sign language with the help of her interpreter, an octopus named Ollie. She made her first appearance in the sixth episode of the show’s second season, “Wish Upon a Starfish,” and would go on to appear in another episode, “Ariel’s Treasures,” in 1994.
The character was also based on a real-life fan of “The Little Mermaid” named Gabriella Angelina Bommino, who watched “The Little Mermaid” over and over again while being treated for leukemia, ultimately dying in 1992 at the age of two, reports the LA Times. “We didn’t have a name or a face for the character, and when we heard about Gabriella, it all fit together,” said Pasty Cameron, a writer on “The Little Mermaid: The Series.”
Of course, none of that is going to matter to someone like alt-right commentator Matt Walsh, who tried to go the scientific route by saying, “With ‘The Little Mermaid,’ can we just mention that, from a scientific perspective, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have someone with darker skin who lives deep in the ocean.” He has also called himself a fascist in the past.
It may sometimes feel like trying to avoid hearing about backlash like this is impossible, and there are times when it kind of is, but it’s worth remembering a few things.
First and foremost, mermaids are not real. Secondly, there have been many mermaids portrayed by or depicted as people of color throughout history.
A Black mermaid was featured in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” The popular Nickelodeon series “Bubble Guppies” starred two Black mermaids. Even from a historical perspective, there is a Black mermaid and orisha spirit named Olokún, who originated in the Yoruba religion.
The only reason anyone is up in arms about Ariel being Black is that they think something is being taken away from them instead of being given to other people who haven’t had that representation their entire lives and have most likely seen a character they loved get whitewashed at some point.
There’s only one solution to this. It’s probably the easiest solution of all, to be quite honest. Just ignore it. People like that feed off controversy and outrage and the clicks of the morbidly curious. Deplatforming is a two-way street. If we don’t give them the time of day, they go back to their bubbles, where everybody hates everybody as much as they do.
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