The Little Mermaid, Racism, And The New Orleans Museum Of Art

Remember when there was a minor hue and cry over Disney’s casting of a black actress to play the part of The Little Mermaid in the recent film remake? There were not a small number of people who groaned over the notion that this was – yet again – an example of movie and TV roles originally written or conceived to be for white characters being repurposed for blacks.

This was decried as racism. It always is, but of course that isn’t what drives the opposition to, for example, a black James Bond which has been threatened for years.

The answer has always been that there should be an expansion of art to accommodate the talent of black actors or other relevant people, in contrast to the zero-sum game being played where Western culture has to be altered in the name of inclusion.

People sense this and it drives them crazy. Why, for example, would you not expand the Bond franchise so that Agent 008 – a colleague of James Bond’s who is equally intriguing as a character and whose adventures could be as or more compelling – might be played by Idris Elba? Instead, Elba has to be the next Bond.

It comes off as mean-spirited, almost as a cultural extension of the Great Replacement theory by which whites – and particularly straight white men – are to be marginalized and eliminated in favor of demographic groups more in line with woke sensibilities.

It’s hard not to see this as of a piece with the tearing down of 19th-century historical landmarks featuring prominent Americans on either side of the Civil War, and so forth.

But what’s interesting – or peculiar, as “interesting” might be the wrong word for something as inane as this current moment – is that this phenomenon is anything but intellectually consistent.

Because if The Little Mermaid, who was written as a Danish character initially, can be black, then why can’t the curator of the New Orleans Museum of Art’s African collection be white?

Oh, but no. That can’t happen, can it?

The New Orleans Museum of Art was slammed Friday when it announced that it had hired Amanda Maples, a white woman, as its curator of African Art.

Introducing Maples via press release and Instagram caused immediate blowback as commenters expressed intense frustration that a black curator or other person of color hadn’t been chosen for the role.

One user, Monwell Frazier, lamented the announcement arriving on the same day the Supreme Court overturned Affirmative Action: ‘No. No. No. no. NO. On the day the US Supreme Court rejects Affirmative Action, we see why it can be so necessary.

‘Even in a role that has “African” in the title. Not to take anything from the Maples’s breadth of work, but we’ve worked for centuries to be in control of our own expression.’

Others echoed Frazier’s comments: ‘Listen… I defend y’all in the Black community so much and I thought that with some recent exhibits we’d made some headway! But then you do something foolish like this.

‘Come on, y’all. I’m sure she’s talented etc, but this is just an awful look. Hiring is WAY more than about credentials. Until y’all remedy this situation with a REAL apology and a new Black hire, and one who’s REALLY Black not just a token, I can no longer support NOMA,’ wrote Megan Braden-Perry.

The museum periodically respond to some of the criticism, defending their new hire.

‘While we can’t speak about others considered for this post, Maples’s breadth of experience and emphasis on sustained collaboration with artists and institutions in Africa and around the world set her apart from other candidates.

‘Maples’s research and work focuses on areas where NOMA is seeking to grow, including leading a crucial reconsideration of how North American museums collect and present African art,’ wrote the institution.

The thing is, in the tiny universe of African art curators you probably can’t get anybody more qualified than Amanda Maples. Her bio is extensive – among her previous stops are a PhD in visual studies from UC Santa Cruz and curatorship of global African arts at the North Carolina Museum of Art. She has held additional roles at Stanford’s art center, and the Yale University Art Gallery, the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, and others.

So there might not have been anybody black who was objectively better than Amanda Maples.

Here’s what she looks like. Give her credit that she isn’t some sort of Rachel Dolezal trying to pretend to be black to “fit in” to her job…

Of course, the hoop earrings and the nose ring do lend themselves a little toward the “cultural appropriation” angle.


And you’re likely aware that white women are not allowed to wear hoop earrings.

This is such an amusing controversy, because it exposes the degree of petty stupidity we’re exposed to.

And frankly, we could go either way on this.

If it’s OK for our cultural betters to force cultural appropriation on white and European history and heritage – whether that’s James Bond, The Little Mermaid, Netflix’s new Queen Cleopatra docudrama, Netflix’s re-imaging of Queen Charlotte as black, or countless other examples of blackwashing – then nobody should bat an eye about a white lady from Cal-Santa Cruz curating African art.

Or, Amanda Maples needs to get a more “race-appropriate” job but blackwashing has to go away and instead we need to add more cultural products which can feature black artists, actors, writers and so forth.

It would seem like anything in the middle is racist and unfair.

Or else everyone should shut up.

We can’t get too worked up about the black activists in New Orleans irritated about the white lady at the museum. To the extent that they’re frustrated at a lack of inclusion in presenting their own heritage, we think they’ve got a point.

The problem is that respect goes both ways, and nobody is respecting the traditional white, European cultural heritage – least of all, the white leftists who have done more to create this needless division in the first place. So if we truly want this to go away, we need to recognize the contributions of everyone to our shared cultural patrimony, respect them as such, and aim to add to that patrimony rather than adulterating or replacing it.

If we could do that, we’d likely find that we can all enjoy the full picture of contributions to our culture.

But until then we’re stuck with stupid things like this, and perhaps we’ll just bring the popcorn and watch the mess at the New Orleans Museum of Art.



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