Black Mermaids, a Creation of Fact and Fiction
|Jalondra Davis, UC Riverside’s mermaid expert, speaks on the upcoming film “The Little Mermaid,” Black mermaid lore, and the historical components of this sea goddess. “The Little Mermaid” hits theatres May 26.|
|At UC Riverside, Jalondra Davis is an assistant professor of English. In her “The Merwomanist” podcast, she is Mami Melusine. Under the water, she is a mermaid.
Throughout her teens, and then in college, Davis discovered the important — and many times intentionally omitted — historical connections between Black people and water. At UCR she, researches the intersections of Black studies, women and gender and sexuality studies, and contemporary fiction and popular culture. With the upcoming release of Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid,” Davis’ research is more relevant than ever. The film features singer, songwriter, and actress Halle Bailey as Ariel, Disney’s first Black Ariel protagonist.
Fantasy does not exclusively belong to the imaginations of white European writers and creators, Davis, ’17, said. For Davis, taking factual, historical components and incorporating them into fantasy, is a way to reconcile the African American experience.
“I have always loved mermaids, it’s something I have always identified with,” Davis said. “One of the things I am zeroing in on is this idea of the Middle Passage as the birth of mermaid species. I call this idea crossing merfolk.”
The Middle Passage refers to the enslaved Africans who were inhumanely transported in “slaver” ships to the Americas and Europe across the Atlantic Ocean between the 1500s and the 1800s. They were human property in a “triangle trade,” exchanged for goods and services between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Estimates indicate that about 15% of Africans died in the grueling 80-day voyage. Many of those bodies were discarded in the ocean, including children and pregnant women.
Africans believed a water spirit watched over these souls, carrying them into the afterlife, Davis said.
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|About UC Riverside
The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California’s diverse culture, UCR’s enrollment is more than 26,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual impact of more than $2.7 billion on the U.S. economy. To learn more, visit www.ucr.edu.