The little Mermaid is flooded in select foreign markets amid a racist backlash over the casting of black actress Halle Bailey in the role of Ariel.
The film only grossed $3.6 million in its first 10 days of release in China, by far the worst showing of Disney’s live-action adaptations. The film is also struggling in South Korea, where it has earned $4.4 million through June 4. Sources close to the film, as well as box office analysts, say Disney knew Little Mermaid could face challenges but is surprised by the magnitude of the backlash and its impact.
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The social media outcry over Bailey’s casting was particularly vocal in both markets. Sources believe this has resulted in unverified audience reviews bashing the film. In South Korea, such reviews have even made headlines.
Negative viewer reviews have also populated social media in China. And just before the film premiered in that country, the government joined in The world time had an editorial criticizing Disney’s motives.
“The controversy surrounding Disney’s forced inclusion of minorities in classic films is not about racism, but about the lazy and irresponsible storytelling strategy,” the opinion read. “Many Chinese netizens said that like ‘Snow White’, the image of the mermaid princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales has long been rooted in their hearts and that it takes a leap of imagination to accept the new cast. “
The editorial further questioned whether Disney’s “political correctness” is motivated by financial interests or a genuine concern for representation.
Bailey landed the role in the summer of 2019 after an extensive search involving hundreds of actresses.
“She immediately set the bar so high that no one surpassed it,” says director Rob Marshall THR last month. “We saw every ethnicity. There was no agenda to cast a woman of color. It was really just, “Let’s find the best Ariel,” and Halle claimed the part.
Bailey’s performance was critically acclaimed by both critics and (verified) audiences.
In China, Hollywood revenue has fallen dramatically since the pandemic. The biggest US hits so far this year have been Fast X And Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, both are nearing the end of their runs with current totals of approximately $125 million and $78.8 million, respectively. Those are solid numbers, but far less than each franchise’s predecessors. F9: The fast saga (2021) earned $217 million and F8 (2017) took in $392.8 million in China; while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) grossed $100 million. And all other American tent poles have fared significantly worse this year.
But even against a collective backdrop of diminished potential in China, the scale is off The little MermaidThe flop is striking. The jungle king (2016) and The lionking (2019) were straight blockbusters in China, earning $150 million and $120 million respectively, while Aladdin (2019) took in a solid $53.5 million. Even Cruellareleased during the pandemic made $24 million, far more than Little Mermaid eventually will.
“It’s disappointing,” says the Little Mermaid insider.
Adds an outside studio source who tracks the performance of photos from Hollywood events: “We didn’t expect the racist backlash and so the photo would underperform internationally.”
In the U.S, The little Mermaid doing good business despite protests from some over Bailey’s casting. The film has made more than $186 million in its first 10 days and is on par with a breakthrough live-action hit Aladdin. In its second weekend Little Mermaid fell an estimated 58 percent in North America as Spider-Man: About the Spider-Verse came on the market.
Box office analysts believe Little Mermaid could reach $350 million domestically. Aladdindomestic haul was $355.6 million.
Overseas, Aladdin reached $695.1 million for a worldwide total of $1.05 billion. However, South Korea accounted for $91 million while China contributed $53.5 million. It remains to be seen where Little Mermaid lands internationally. It ended June 4 with a foreign total of $140.5 million after debuting a week earlier to a disappointing $68.3 million (Disney had been counting on at least $80 million). The good news: Female skewing held up well in a number of markets and continues to do particularly well in Latin America.
Japan is another important market for it Little Mermaidwhere it will open in the next few days (Aladdin earned a significant $112.5 million in that area).
Disney’s latest marketing push in Japan trumpets the film’s strong verified audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as the film’s promising start in North America. The studio also continues to focus on the acclaim Bailey has earned.
As for combating user reviews made in bad faith, observers say it’s harder to do internationally.
“Inland you can search for verified [audience] reviews,” notes a box office analyst. “It’s not possible internationally.”
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