Pretty much everything about social media is dumb, but there’s one phenomenon that’s even dumber than the rest of it: fake backlash. Whenever a black person is cast in a movie role that has traditionally gone to a white person, or a woman is cast in a male role, or when there’s even talk of doing something like that, we’re treated to weeks of stories about the supposed backlash. There’s a black Storm Trooper in the new Star Wars flick? “Backlash.” A black guy has been cast as the Human Torch in a reboot of the Fantastic Four? “Backlash.” The new Ghostbusters are all women? “Backlash.” A lot of people want Idris Elba to play James Bond, and the producers of the James Bond movies haven’t ruled it out? “Backlash.”
And as evidence for this supposed backlash, we’re told that it was trending on Twitter. If a racist or sexist hashtag is trending, that must mean lots of people agree with the sentiment behind it, right?
This idiocy started with #BoycottStarWarsVII. And now it’s #NotMyAriel.
On July 4, as Americans celebrated Independence Day with barbecue, fireworks and armored vehicles rolling through the streets of Washington, #NotMyAriel began trending on Twitter. The hashtag took off in response to the announcement that Disney had hired Halle Bailey, an African American actress and R&B singer, to star as Ariel in the upcoming live-action remake of the 1989 feature-length cartoon “The Little Mermaid.”
Outraged by Bailey’s casting as Ariel, many (white) Disney fans took to Twitter to express their disappointment and to threaten to boycott the film. As these critics saw it, by replacing a beloved redheaded, white cartoon character with a black live-action Ariel, Disney had tainted loyal fans’ childhood memories.
There’s just one problem with this theory: It wasn’t “many Disney fans” who started #NotMyAriel. It was a handful of trolls. The hashtag didn’t start trending on Twitter because lots of people were saying it, but because lots of people were criticizing it. They were all patting themselves on the back for being better than the racists. Most likely, they didn’t even see the original racism. They’re just overreacting to the overreaction.
“I can’t believe it’s [current year] and there are actually people who say #NotMyAriel. Aren’t we better than that, America?” Thousands and thousands of tweets like that. Thousands and thousands of people rejecting racism.
Whenever you see a story about one of these faux controversies, try to find quotes from the “many fans” who are racists, or sexists, or whatever. In the unlikely event that they’re directly quoted, you’ll find that they’re just a few nobodies with almost no Twitter followers. If anything, the “backlash” is actually evidence that most people on social media aren’t racists. They’re just gullible.
There is no backlash against a black actress playing the Little Mermaid. Twitter is not real life. It was too good to check, so nobody did.