Review bombing over Halle Bailey's casting in The Little Mermaid made IMDb add new metrics to weigh review scores.
From the moment it was first announced that Grown-Ish star Halle Bailey had been cast in the leading role of Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, the 23-year-old star and the film itself were subject to mass criticism from trolls across the web. The film faced an assault of negative reviews before it had even been released to the public, prompting IMDb to overhaul its rating system entirely, according to a recent write-up in Fortune. More than 33,000 users have weighed in on the film database already, with thousands of scathing 1-star reviews focussing on the race of the film’s lead rather than the content of the film itself.
This phenomenon is nothing new and dates back to many instances of internet culture war discourse dominating cinema, such as the reveal of John Boyega’s Finn in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Much like Halle Bailey’s casting as the titular little mermaid, John Boyega‘s existence as a black person in outer space caused racists across the internet to seethe with frustration, ensnaring Star Wars fans in a number of online arguments regarding the realism behind the space fantasy Western set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Likewise, The Little Mermaid has faced intense scrutiny by fans utilizing bad faith arguments questioning the realism of a fictional creature having a different skin tone than that of the character in the 1989 cartoon.
This discourse is damning for fans of all walks of life, as it splits audiences into two groups, stripping the film’s discussion of any nuance. If a fan truly loves Halle Bailey’s performance in The Little Mermaid, and seeks to validate their feelings with a glowing 5-star review, it may be seen as virtue signaling, with the sole intent of elevating the film to combat the political backlash. Likewise, if a film fan attempts to provide negative feedback for a film they feel fails to live up to Disney‘s quality standards, they could easily become lumped in with the group of review bombers who have made it their mission to drop the overall viewer score of the film without having ever watched it.
As one of the internet’s largest film sites, IMDb responded to this backlash by overhauling its entire review and ratings system, flagging a host of unusual activity from users targeting Halle Bailey and The Little Mermaid with seemingly unfounded attacks. The website released a statement that explained that the weighting system has been adjusted to account for the reliability of user input, though representatives did not specify exactly how they would be reworking the algorithm for fear that internet users would quickly adapt to the new system and overwhelm it with toxic spam.
We’ve seen this controversy pop up time and time again in the past, though review bombing from disturbed internet users often fails to make any real-world traction. Despite the discourse surrounding Halle Bailey’s casting, The Little Mermaid still topped the box office upon release, marking the fifth largest Memorial Day weekend opening, earning nearly $100 million in the process.