Posted on May 30, 2023

China Box Office: ‘Fast X’ Wins Second Weekend, While ‘The Little Mermaid’ Flop Sparks Debate on Racism

Patrick Frater, Variety, May 28, 2023

Fast X” predictably won a second weekend on top of the mainland China box office, driving its total past the $100 million mark. But the disappointing start for Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid” was the bigger talking point.


“The Little Mermaid,” Disney’s live-action revision of its classic animation tale was only the second best-performing new release of the weekend and placed fifth on the weekend chart with a poor $2.5 million. It was beaten by new release Japanese animation “Sword Art Online The Movie,” with $3.8 million in fourth place.


Discussion of “The Little Mermaid,” in which actor and singer Halle Bailey portrays the title role, again raised the question about how willing Chinese audiences are to watch films with prominent Black characters. This has previously been debated around “The Black Panther” titles and “Star Wars” promotional materials.

Midweek, The Global Times, a state-controlled tabloid paper, lashed out at Disney and accused it of lowering the film’s potential in China by casting a Black actor in the role.

“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 same editorial accused Disney of “political correctness” – an argument similar to the “woke” accusations made by political Right-Wing in the U.S. – and said that the film would likely not perform well in East Asian markets.

It doubled down by saying, “The controversy surrounding Disney’s forced inclusion of minorities in classic films is not about racism, but its lazy and irresponsible storytelling strategy.”

A day later, after online discussion of how Chinese posters for the film had seemingly turned the mermaid’s skin color to blue, a Global Times op-ed went further. It used discussion of the film to launch wide-ranging criticism of Hollywood and western colonialism. {snip}

“A number of netizens from Western countries on Twitter have attacked Chinese audiences, alleging that poor box office numbers are due to ‘racial discrimination.’ This is to impose their politically correct standards on Chinese audiences, and use this to sow discord between China and African groups,” it said. “China has always maintained brotherly relations with Africa and has never needed an ‘atonement’ mentality prevalent in Hollywood.”