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‘The Little Mermaid’ Crashes at Chinese Box Office, After Reported Racist Backlash

Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” fails to make waves at the Chinese box office, allegedly due to the controversy surrounding Ariel’s casting and the ensuing racial backlash.

Credit: Disney

The live-action remake of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” has reportedly faced a significant backlash in China, which may have contributed to its poor performance at the Chinese box office. The film, starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, received racist backlash regarding the casting choice, leading to targeted attacks on both Disney and Bailey.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The Little Mermaid” grossed only $3.6 million in the 10 days following its premiere in China, making it the worst-performing Disney live-action remake in the country. Prior to the film’s release, China’s government-affiliated publication, The Global Times, published an editorial criticizing Disney and the film, accusing the studio of “forced inclusion” and labeling the storytelling choices as “lazy.”

While the film had a strong opening weekend, earning $118.8 million across the Memorial Day four-day weekend, its second weekend saw a significant drop of 56.7%, with only $41.3 million in earnings. It is unclear if the casting backlash played a role in this decline or if other factors were at play. For comparison, “Aladdin” (2019) experienced a 53.2% drop in its second weekend but still went on to earn over $1 billion.

Despite mixed critical reviews, “The Little Mermaid” has received high audience ratings, with a 94 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Bailey’s portrayal of Ariel has been praised by critics, highlighting her charm and stunning vocal talent. Director Rob Marshall, who cast Bailey after seeing her perform at the Grammy’s, described her as angelic and was moved to tears during her audition when she sang Ariel’s iconic song, “Part of Your World.” Marshall has emphasized that there was no agenda regarding skin color in the casting decision.

While the impact of the casting backlash on the film’s global performance is evident, it is difficult to determine if it was the sole factor for its underperformance at the Chinese box office. The overall pushback from audiences against Disney’s slate of remakes may have also affected the film’s financial success. As the necessity of Disney’s live-action remakes comes into question, only time will tell if “The Little Mermaid” can overcome these challenges and find success.

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