When the first teaser trailer for the live-action remake of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” dropped in September of 2022, over one million “dislikes” hit the YouTube video — all because the lead actress, Halle Bailey, is Black.
Now that the movie has made its cinematic debut, critics (and racists) are “review bombing” the film, to again, troll Bailey and the film’s creators, for their more inclusive casting move.
But “Little Mermaid” fans — like the thousands of young Black girls who have reacted to the film with unbridled enthusiasm — are swimming on a completely different wavelength.
One group of fans, led by the fan activist nonprofit Fandom Forward, is using the drama of the Disney film to make real change off the screen.
The organization launched the Protect Ariel’s Home campaign during Earth Month in April, to train Disney fans to become eco-activists, learning how to take collective action to protect water — especially for BIPOC communities.
As the movie entered theaters and seeped into June’s Pride Month festivities, Fandom Forward wanted to take the project one step further.
“So much of Fandom Forward's community is trans and queer, and we're obviously so disheartened by the anti-trans legislation and rhetoric that is sweeping through the U.S. and UK,” Fandom Forward campaigns director, Sara Mortensen, told Good Good Good.
The campaign was created alongside UK-based nonprofit Mermaids UK — which provides support to transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families.
Every dollar raised in donations is split between both organizations and their efforts of training folks in climate activism and supporting trans youth.
“All of the online discourse inspired us to develop a climate campaign that was very grounded in intersectionality already, and when Pride Month approached, we started to think about how we could organize a queer offshoot of the Protect Ariel’s Home campaign and do something that felt positive and impactful for the trans community,” Mortensen said.
The campaign features a number of activations, such as informative blog posts about clean drinking water, coral reef preservation, and more; digital training livestreams hosted with other fan activists (and even actors from shows like “Our Flag Means Death”) to protect LGBTQ+ rights; and accessible training toolkits for folks to access after live-stream events.
The training videos and toolkits include information on topics such as representation in media and environmental justice (and the impact climate change has on marginalized communities), guided discussion topics, crafts, resources, and action steps.
Participants can track their climate actions in a public spreadsheet (aptly called “Ariel’s Action Grotto”). Action steps include tasks like learning about Tribal Water Rights, contacting elected officials about the urgency of clean water legislation, and even ringing a digital “fish doorbell” to help fish pass through waterways safely in the Netherlands.
Additionally, each donation toward protecting trans youth includes fun “perks” as a thank you for fan support, including access to a drag makeup tutorial in recreating Ursula’s iconic look, or plushies made from recycled plastic bottles.
While the perks sure are fun, fans have quickly mobilized to make a splash all on their own.
Mortensen said over 200 fans have taken free online trainings or accessed informational toolkits to grow in their climate activism — and over 80 climate justice actions have been documented in Ariel’s Action Grotto.
On the fundraiser side of things, organizers are taking a new approach to measuring success: the number of people engaged, as opposed to the amount of money donated.
A week into the campaign, Fandom Forward is 20% of the way toward its goal of connecting 100 donors to the fundraiser in support of Mermaids UK.
Fandom Forward knows climate racism and transphobia are sadly “part of our world,” but also that the power of a community can truly create ripple effects — under the sea and beyond.
“The power fan communities have is incredible, especially when they work together on a common goal,” Fandom Forward’s training toolkit reads.
“While this campaign is about bringing attention to the environmental needs of communities, it is also about celebrating the visibility of BIPOC characters and the joy that diverse stories bring to these communities.”