Those girls’ faces. The eyes that can’t believe it. Their smile when it turns out to be true. A week or two ago, Disney showed a teaser of their new movie, a remake of The little Mermaid, not a cartoon, but one with real people. Immediately after that went on TikTok videos viral that mothers made of their daughters watching the movie. “I think she’s brown,” says oneI think she’s not even four years old yet. Another, eight at most, is taken aback by bewilderment. “She’s brown, like me.” At about the same time, the hashtag #notmyariel came to life online, because there are always people who think that Ariel should have red hair, white skin, and blue eyes, or green, purple if necessary, but certainly not brown.
I had to think about it when I went to Talking about color watched, a series that HUMAN broadcasts every evening this week. At an impossible time, well after noon, film and television makers talk to each other about diversity and representation in their work. I translate that as: do we see color on our screens and if so, does that color match how people of color see themselves? In sets of two, a “color maker” and a “white maker” watch a film clip and then, according to the broadcaster’s press release, “respectful exchanges take place.”
Actor Daniël Kolf showed actor Jacob Derwig a piece from The East, in which two Dutch soldiers execute five Indonesians. Kolf thinks it’s great that the ‘black pages of history’ are now material for film makers. Jacob Derwig must first admit that he thought it was quite a “masculine” film. Two female roles. bit parts. “One is a whore, the other a mother.” His eyes for the role of women in theater or film only opened five years ago, he says. That was when actress Jacqueline Blom damned to star in his adaptation of a play by Chekhov. Also in it: two female roles. A prostitute and a mother with little or no text.
They never see themselves on TV
The conversation between writer Manju Reijmer and Pieter Bart Korthuis on Tuesday evening was overflowing with benevolence and mutual understanding. I’m not saying that to be lame, but the people in this series already seemed pretty awake to me about where their blind spots are. That does not mean that the scales can still fall from your eyes. On Wednesday evening, cultural entrepreneur Hui Hui Pan and actress Jennifer Hoffman sat opposite each other. A piece was shown from beef funk, in which a Chinese meal delivery lady is taunted by a customer and keeps smiling silently. But this was a satirical program anyway, the scene was meant to be cringe-inducing, it was a joke. That’s not the problem, says Hui Hui Pan. The problem, she says, is that there is no counterpart to that image of that silent Asian woman who allows everything. “I have three small children, they never see themselves on TV.” She used to wish herself blond hair and blue eyes, and now her daughter does that again, or: still.
And suddenly I was back at that ballet performance, at least sixteen years ago, it was Christmas. In the main hall of the Muziektheater in Amsterdam, broken expensive tickets, packed hall. Sleeping Beauty, with all the trimmings. One daughter next to me, the youngest of three on my lap. At first she loudly noted that there was no talking on stage. Stupid. Then Sleeping Beauty came dancing on stage. Dead silence on my lap that I held for rapture. But it was utter amazement, or rather: disappointment. Her childish voice rang over the back of her heads. “Sleeping Beauty is Chinese.” And princesses may have hair as black as ebony, but the skin is always white. How easy is it to color those faces?