Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid is facing considerable challenges in Asia markets due to a racist backlash surrounding the casting of Halle Bailey, in the role of Ariel.
‘The Little Mermaid’ rocked by poor gains in Asia markets
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, the film’s performance has been disappointing, with its release in China resulting in a mere $3.6 million in earnings during the first 10 days, marking the worst showing among Disney’s live-action adaptations.
Similarly, in South Korea, the movie struggled to garner attention, earning only $4.4 million through 4 June 2023.
The extent of the backlash and its impact have reportedly caught Disney off guard.
The backlash against Halle Bailey’s casting has been particularly vocal on social media in both Chinese and South Korean markets.
Unverified audience reviews believed to be influenced by the controversy, have emerged, contributing to negative sentiment towards the film.
In South Korea, these reviews have even made headlines. Chinese social media has also seen a proliferation of critical comments. Prior to the film’s release in China, an editorial in the government-affiliated publication, The Global Times, criticised Disney’s inclusion of minorities in classic films, questioning whether it was driven by financial interests or genuine concern for representation.
‘The Little Mermaid’ on course to be worst-performing Disney remake
Bailey secured the role of Ariel in the summer of 2019 after an extensive search that considered actresses from diverse backgrounds.
Director Rob Marshall praised Bailey’s talent, emphasising that her performance set a high standard during the casting process. Critics and verified audiences alike have applauded Bailey’s portrayal of Ariel.
The disappointing box office performance of The Little Mermaid in China is significant, particularly considering the recent decline in Hollywood earnings due to the pandemic.
Previous Disney blockbusters, such as The Jungle Book (2016) and The Lion King (2019), achieved tremendous success in the Chinese market, earning $150 million and $120 million, respectively.
Even ‘Cruella,’ released during the pandemic, outperformed ‘The Little Mermaid,’ amassing $24 million in China. The scale of the film’s underperformance is alarming and has surprised industry insiders.
Japan box office premiere could be a saving grace
Despite the challenges faced internationally, ‘The Little Mermaid‘ has been faring well in the United States, grossing over $186 million in its first 10 days and performing on par with the successful live-action hit ‘Aladdin.’
However, it is important to note that the film has received some opposition within the U.S. regarding Halle Bailey’s casting. Box office analysts predict that the movie could potentially reach $350 million domestically, similar to the domestic haul of ‘Aladdin‘ at $355.6 million.
As the film continues its international release, its performance outside the United States remains uncertain. While it finished 4 June 2023 with a foreign tally of $140.5 million, slightly below expectations, there is hope as it resonates well with female audiences and continues to perform strongly in Latin America.
The upcoming release in Japan, a significant market, could prove crucial. Disney’s marketing efforts in Japan focus on the film’s positive verified audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and highlight the critical acclaim received by Halle Bailey.