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Ebony Elizabeth Thomas speaks with PBS Newshour about the power of multicultural stories

May 23, 2023

The decision to cast a Black actress in the role of Ariel for the live-action version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid has sparked both joy and backlash.


Professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas tells PBS Newshour that the negative response to casting Black actress Halle Bailey in the role of Ariel isn't surprising, given that we live in a society “where we all grow up to expect most of our heroes and most of our heroines to be white, cisgender, and from the majority culture.”

However, Thomas, author of The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, argues that multicultural stories—like the new live-action version of The Little Mermaid—have the power to open doors, build bridges, and ultimately connect people to each other. 

“It helps us learn how to get along with each other when we have a glimpse into what it means to be another person living in a different kind of culture, living in another country, living another life.”

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Chair of the Joint Program in English and Education; Associate Professor, Marsal Family School of Education