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The little Mermaid is being dunked in select overseas markets amid racist backlash over the casting of black actress Halle Bailey as Ariel.
The film grossed just $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 strongly 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 about it Mermaid he may face challenges, but is surprised by the scale of the backlash and its impact.
Social media outcry over Bailey’s casting has been particularly loud in both markets. Sources believe this led to unverified audience reviews criticizing the film. In South Korea, such the reviews even made the news.
Negative reviews from the public have also populated social media in China. And just before the film was released in that country, affiliated with the government The global times published an editorial criticizing Disney’s motives.
“The controversy surrounding Disney’s forced inclusion of minorities in classic films is not about racism, but about its lazy and irresponsible storytelling strategy,” the editorial said. “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 it takes a leap of imagination to accept the new cast.”
The editorial also questioned whether Disney’s “political correctness” is motivated by financial interests or a genuine concern for representation.
Bailey landed the role in summer 2019 after an extensive search that included hundreds of actresses.
“She immediately raised the bar so high that no one has surpassed her,” said director Rob Marshall DAY last month. “We saw every ethnicity. There was no agenda for choosing a black woman. It was really just, ‘Let’s find the best Ariel,’ and Halle claimed the role.
Bailey’s performance was widely lauded by critics and audiences alike (verified).
In China, Hollywood’s earnings have fallen sharply since the pandemic. The biggest US hits so far this year have been Fast X AND Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, both nearing the end of their runs with current totals of approximately $125 million and $78.8 million, respectively. Those are solid numbers, but far fewer than each franchise’s predecessors. F9: The fast saga (2021) earned $217 million and F8 (2017) grossed $392.8 million in China; While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) grossed $100 million. And all the other US tentpoles have fared much worse this year.
But even in the collective environment of China’s reduced potential, the scope of The little MermaidThe flop is big. The king of the jungle (2016) e The Lion King (2019) were smash hits in China, earning $150 million and $120 million, respectively, while Aladdin (2019) grossed a whopping $53.5 million. Also Cruellawhich was released during the pandemic, earned $24 million, far more Mermaid eventually it will.
“It’s disappointing,” says the Mermaid insiders.
Adds a source outside the studio tracking the performance of the Hollywood event photos: “We didn’t expect the racist backlash and, therefore, the film would underperform internationally.”
In the United States, The little Mermaid did good business despite protests from some regarding Bailey’s casting. The film earned north of $186 million in its first 10 days and is progressing on par with the live-action blockbuster Aladdin. In its second weekend, Mermaid fell about 58% in North America as Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse entered the market.
Box office analysts believe Mermaid it could top $350 million domestically. AladdinThe domestic haul of was $355.6 million.
Abroad, Aladdin it reached $695.1 million for a worldwide total of $1.05 billion. South Korea, however, contributed $91 million, while China contributed $53.5 million. Where remains to be seen Mermaid lands internationally. It ended June 4 with a foreign tally 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: The female slant has held up well in a number of markets and continues to play particularly well in Latin America.
Japan is another key market for Mermaidwhere will it open in the next few days (Aladdin earned a sizable $112.5 million in that territory).
Disney’s latest marketing push in Japan enhances the film’s strong verified audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as the film’s promising start in North America. The studio also continues to focus on Bailey’s success.
As for tackling bad-faith user reviews, observers say it’s harder to do it internationally.
“Nationwide, you can search by verified (audience) reviews,” notes a box office analyst. “Internationally, you can’t.”