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The New York Times seemingly said the quiet part out loud last Thursday, May 25, when Hollywood critic Wesley Morris penned the piece “‘The Little Mermaid’ Review: The Renovations Are Only Skin Deep” in which he partially whined about there being a lack of sexual “kink” in the children’s movie. He also didn’t appreciate Disney’s latest attempt at “culturally reparative work” and the collaboration of different races to make the movie.
Morris’s disturbing cry for more sexually explicit material in children’s movies first drew public condemnation when The Times promoted his position on Twitter. The tweet utilized lines from his opening paragraph: “It reeks of obligation and noble intentions. Joy, fun, mystery, risk, flavor, kink — they’re missing.”
That line was immediately followed up with the gripe that “[t]he movie is saying, ‘We tried!’ Tried not to offend, appall, challenge, imagine.”
So, according to Morris, the lack of kink in the kid’s movie was a travesty because it betrayed a lack of imagination and will to offend? Disgusting.
Many others who tackled Morris’s huff about the lack of “kink” largely reported on the tweet and the online outrage but didn’t look much further, possibly turned off by the fact the article was behind The Times’ paywall. But here at NewsBusters, we dove into the rest of Morris’s rambling and found an article brimming with racially charged animus.
Morris’s author page on The Times’s website noted one of his focuses was “Hollywood's addiction to racial reconciliation fantasies,” which explains why he seemed upset that Ariel, played by black singer Halle Bailey, ended up with Prince Eric, played by white actor Jonah Hauer-King, and the multi-racial cast:
Now, Ariel’s rueful daddy, King Triton, is played by a stolid Javier Bardem, who does all the king’s lamenting in Spanish-inflected English. Instead of the Broadway chorines of the original, her mermaid siblings are a multiethnic, runway-ready General Assembly. The prince, Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), is white, English and now seems to have more plot than Ariel. “More” includes meals with his mother, Queen Selina (Noma Dumezweni), who’s Black, as is her chief servant, Lashana (Martina Laird).
“It’s still a Disney movie, one whose heroine now, sigh, happens to be Black,” he lamented. “The colorization hasn’t led to a racialized, radicalized adventure. It’s not a Black adaptation, an interpretation that imbues white material with Black culture until it’s something completely new.”
He also saw racial undertones in Melissa McCarthy’s Ursula stealing Ariel’s voice, something that existed in the original animated version. “When Ursula pulls a fast one and reinvents herself as Vanessa, a sexy rival who appears to be white and woos Eric with a siren song in Ariel’s voice, there’s a whole American history of theft and music to overthink, too,” he complained.
He also decried how multiple races came together to write and perform a new rap song for the movie:
The song that breaks this news to Ariel and Sebastian is a rap called “The Scuttlebutt” with lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. And Awkwafina, who does Scuttle’s voice, performs most of it while Bailey looks on in what I’m going to call anguish. Here’s an Asian American performer whose shtick is a kind of Black impersonation, pretending to be a computer-generated bird, rhythm-rapping with a Black American man pretending to be a Caribbean crab. It’s the sort of mind-melting mess that feels honest and utterly free in its messiness, even as the mess douses a conveniently speechless Black woman.
“It’s really a misery to notice these things,” he pitied himself.