Universal Under Fire For “Upsetting” Diverse Casting in New Live Action

in Entertainment

How to Train Your Dragon Hiccup Astrid

Credit: Dreamworks

DreamWorks and Universal are following the footsteps of Disney and moving forward with diverse casting in their upcoming live-action film of How to Train Your Dragon.

Hiccup and the rest of the characters from How To Train Your Dragon film franchise
Credit: DreamWorks Animation Studios

Since its announcement in 2016, The Little Mermaid (1989) fans were excited to see the live-action recreation of the classic Disney renaissance film. After numerous production delays and COVID-19 cancellations, Ariel (Halle Bailey), Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), Flounder (Jacob Tremblay), and friends  finally made their way to the big screen in May 2023!

Melissa McCarthy starred as the infamous sea witch Ursula – one of the most beloved Disney Villains of all time. Jonah Hauer-King portrayed Ariel’s love interest, Prince Eric, and Javier Bardem as her father, King Triton. Directed by Rob Marshall, the film features your favorite original songs, as well as new music from Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid' (2023). Credit: Disney
Credit: Disney

Bailey, whose casting was first announced in 2019, spoke with Variety about taking on the iconic role and the backlash she received on social media due to her race. #NotMyAriel trended on Twitter after the announcement – with the voice of Moana (2016) Auli’li Cravalho coming to Bailey’s defence.

“I want the little girl in me and the little girls just like me who are watching to know that they’re special and that they should be a princess in every single way,” Bailey told Variety. “There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be. That reassurance was something that I needed.”

When the racist backlash and #NotMyAriel movement came along, Bailey said she relied on her family and friends for support. Now 22, she was just 19 years old at the time. Bailey said her grandparents encouraged her to push forward:

“It was an inspiring and beautiful thing to hear their words of encouragement, telling me, ‘You don’t understand what this is doing for us, for our community, for all the little Black and brown girls who are going to see themselves in you.”

Ariel (R) and Eric (L) in Disney's 'The Little Mermaid' (2023)
Credit: Walt Disney Studios

That made her reflect on what it would have meant to have a Black Ariel growing up. “What that would have done for me, how that would have changed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything,” Bailey explained. “Things that seem so small to everyone else, it’s so big to us.”

The film made a splash at the domestic box office upon its release, but floundered in some international territories. The Little Mermaid flopped in China and South Korea amid reports of racist backlash. It ended its theatrical run with $569.6 million on a budget of $250–265 million.

More unhappy Disney fans were relinquished when Disney’s live-action Snow White announced that Rachel Zegler, a Latina actress, would be playing Snow White — a princess who was animated to have “skin white as snow”.

Rachel Zegler pretending to be Snow White in front of a poster of the classic animated princess
Credit: Rachel Zegler, Twitter

Disney did pledge to add more diversity to their casting, and now Universal and DreamWorks has moved in a similar direction.

Mason Thames, who starred in Universal’s horror hit The Black Phone, and Nico Parker, the rising actress who was last seen in HBO’s The Last of Us, are set to star as Hiccup and Astrid in the feature How to Train Your Dragon being directed by Dean DeBlois.

Universal has dated the feature for a March 14, 2025, release and is planning on a film shoot this summer.

Using the books by Cressida Cowell as a jumping-off point, How to Train Your Dragon focused on the special friendship between a young and unheroic Viking boy named Hiccup and Toothless, an injured dragon he nurses back to health. The movies chronicled Hiccup and Toothless’ quest to combat humanity’s prejudice against dragons, the ache of overcoming the loss of a parent, and first love.

The How to Train Your Dragon franchise had three successful films, spanning nine years from 2010 to 2019. 

How to Train Your Dragon Hiccup Astrid
Credit: DreamWorks

The film series has been highly acclaimed, with each film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, in addition to the first film’s nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

On top of that, Universal Orlando Resort is creating an entire land based on the franchise in their new theme park Epic Universe, so it is not a surprise to hear that Universal and DreamWorks decided to reignite the franchise via a live-action film.

That being said, creators are starting to speak out on the fact that Astrid, a Scandinavian character, will be played by Black actress Nico Parker.

Interestingly, Android Flex (@AndroidxFlex), a Black creator, took to TikTok to condemn Universal for their casting choice.

@androidxflex

No offense to the actor but its a silly decision #racewars #howtotrainyourdragon #howtotrainyourdragonliveaction #racism #foryou #foryoupage #viral #viralvideos #funnycomedy #realtalk #letschat #baddecisions #disney #dreamworks

♬ original sound – androidxflex

The creator said, “who asked for this? like who”.

They continued, “as a Black person, I don’t feel I need to see myself in there to enjoy it,” referring to the upcoming film. This is because the film is heavily based on a Viking culture, which they noted would not have been Black. By casting a Black actor, the film is then isolating the Scandinavian and Norwegian races, according to the creator.

how-to-train-your-dragon-characters
Credit: DreamWorks Animation

The TikToker continued to note that this is a fictional movie and “is not that deep”, also stating, “It’s not everything we need representation in.”

The comment section of the video heavily agreed with the creator.

Some noted that movie companies should write new stories with original Black characters instead of changing animated ethnicities. Others agreed that viewers do not need to “see yourself” in a film to enjoy it. More comments state that these casting choices are not being asked for by any community.

The live-action remake of How To Train Your Dragon is slated to be released on March 14, 2025.

What do you think about Universal’s casting choice for How To Train Your Dragon?

 

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