Now that ‘The Little Mermaid’ has sailed into theatres, pillagers have started to attack. Since the movie’s release, armchair critics have attempted to tank the Disney live-action film on major movie review sites, leading some fans to believe there’s a racist undercurrent to what they’re calling a “review bombing” attack.
In the years leading up to the movie’s release, Disney was met with uproar after casting Halle Bailey, a Black actress and singer, as Ariel. Despite the vitriol, the latest in Disney’s line of live-actions was a top performer in the box office since its premiere. It earned $118 million (Dh433.41 million) domestically over Memorial Day weekend, making it the fifth-highest-grossing movie for the holiday weekend in history as the movie theatre industry seeks to revive its pre-Covid audience numbers.
But the highly anticipated film didn’t appear to be highly favoured on some movie review websites. IMDb decided to depart from its usual ratings method to give ‘The Little Mermaid’ a 7 out of 10 rating after site visitors noticed the film’s abnormal review patterns. About 16,000 users gave the Disney movie a one-star rating, the lowest possible score out of 10, which dropped the unweighted average (mean) rating to 4.7.
“Our rating mechanism has detected unusual voting activity on this title,” a notice on IMDb said about ‘The Little Mermaid’ on the site. “To preserve the reliability of our rating system, an alternate weighting calculation has been applied.”
On the review website Metacritic, more than 550 of the 689 user ratings were negative, giving the movie an overall 2.1 out of 10, compared with a lukewarm 59 out of 100 rating from professional movie critics.
To address review bombing in general, Metacritic staff moderates by reviewing users’ reports of violations, said Brenna Harran, who’s part of the Metacritic public relations team. “We are currently evolving our processes and tools to introduce stricter moderation in the coming months,” the Metacritic team said in a statement.
In contrast, review aggregation sites Rotten Tomatoes and CinemaScore, websites that verify that users have watched the movie they’re rating, saw more positive scores for the new Disney movie. ‘The Little Mermaid’ received a 95 per cent audience rating out of more 5,000 verified reviews and a 68 per cent “fresh” or mildly positive rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. On CinemaScore, the film received an “A.”
Rotten Tomatoes, which calculates Tomatometer scores for movies and TV shows based on reviews from professional critics, revamped its audience score to be “made up of ratings from users we’ve confirmed bought tickets to the movie” to address nonconstructive input, the staff wrote in 2019.
CinemaScore’s grades come from audience input through ballots, “polling moviegoers at major movie releases on opening night,” according to its website.
Fans of ‘The Little Mermaid’ suspect that those critical of having cast Bailey, a Black woman, as Ariel are to blame for the suspected review bombing and, in addition to counteracting the sea of negative scores with positive ones, called on IMDb to combat what they called a “disgusting” and “pathetic” practice.
“Review bombing” refers to when commenters flood a review page with low ratings, regardless of the work’s quality. Representatives for the review aggregator sites IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and CinemaScore did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
‘The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power’, ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ also faced a barrage of comments, seemingly tied to racially diverse casting.
‘Captain Marvel’ received negative reviews after actress Brie Larson asked for more diversity in her press pool of interviewers. She started requesting more inclusivity after noticing interviewers and movie critics were “overwhelmingly white male,” Larson said when disabled journalist Keah Brown asked why she was requested to interview her for Marie Claire. “I decided to make sure my press days were more inclusive ... It sounded like across the board they [women of colour] weren’t getting the same opportunities as others.”
Despite the backlash, ‘The Little Mermaid’s’ release went swimmingly, outperforming the opening of Disney’s live-action ‘Aladdin’, which also premiered Memorial Day weekend four years ago.