We Asked An Expert On Mermaids Her Thoughts On the ‘Controversial’ Disney Casting

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Young adult author, Savvy Atkinson.

S.R. (Savannah) Atkinson is primarily known as the writer of the best-selling Siren Anthology series, for which she’s done extensive research on the history and mythology of mermaids across time and cultures.

It’s an archetypal species found in virtually every culture.

But she’s also an advocate for troubled girls and found the recent “controversy” of casting Halle Bailey, a young Black actress, that was met with derision on social media, troubling.

RELATED: The Hateration of Halle Bailey for Being Cast as ‘The Little Mermaid’ Is Racist Pure & Simple

We asked her some questions on how we should really look at all the hooplah.

Where did you get the inspiration for your siren series and in particular their diversity?

When I started writing the series I had to think about where mermaids would have come from as the basis of their origin. For my world, I decided they came from the first people. If, as it is believed, the first people originated in Africa, then it made sense that my first mermaids were black and then as they spread around the ocean their skin color changed for the same reason human’s skin colors are different. I didnt particularly try to have a diversity of mermaids but rather a realistic spectrum of differences. Just as their tails can be a rainbow of colors, why not their skin as well? Though I did stay realistic to human skin tones. As for my characters that are human, they are almost all Venezuelan merely because I love the country and I think representation matters and I didn’t feel my main characters needed to be white for any significance in the plot. 

There are many defenses floating around justifying  Ariel being of any race based on the fact that she’s fictional (this applies to all fictional characters), others that harken back to the original source material that say it was too dark (Ariel “essentially cutting her tongue out for legs and subsequently raped [a real comment]), to Ariel being a stand in for an unrequited male lover of Hans Christian Andersen What’s your reaction to those arguments in particular?

I grew up with the original cartoon from 1975 so I was quite used to the dark story. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for kids to see a gruesome side to life so long as there are discussions about it. When The Little Mermaid came around it was exciting for me to see a story I loved told in a different way, though since I was a child I was confused because I knew the “real” story had a very sad ending. I think it’s perfectly healthy for a developing mind to see all sides to these stories and issues. I wrote my book for teenagers because it is a very pivotal time in their development. I wanted a story that dealt with real life issues (loss, rape, violence, untrustworthy politicians, family struggles) and shows them ways to deal with these problems in a healthy manner. I tried my best to do just this; to deal with real world problems in a fantastical situation with action and adventure. I think maybe that’s how Hans Christian Anderson might have been trying to deal with his problems as well. 

We’re going to see more of these “controversies” going forward as the “reboot” machine in Hollywood constantly recycles these myths and movies: what’s the best prescription, in your eyes, for combatting prejudice against these castings?

I think the best way to combat prejudice is by immersion. Continue making movies with a diverse cast, have starring roles by minorities, and show that its normal to represent all people. If movie after movie is made starring all races, ethnicities, and sexualities (because who says all of these remakes also have to show heterosexual relationships) and they are a success, people will see that literally no harm has been done to their beloved stories. The more diversity is seen in movies, the more prejudice people can see that we are actually all the same. 

S.R. (Savannah) Atkinson re-routed her life 10 years ago when she moved from Utah to New York in order to chase her lifelong dream to be an author. Atkinson is also an advocate for young troubled girls, having gotten her degree in psychology at the University of Utah, and currently owns a business where she works as a family behavioral consultant. She currently resides in New Jersey with her husband. Treading Waves is the third book of the Siren Anthology series.

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