The myth of the mermaid spans the globe from the Amazon to the fjords of Scandinavia. Throughout history, the figure of the half-fish, half-human has surfaced with regularity, from the three-thousand- year-old Assyrian figure of Atargatis to the Mami Wata water spirits of West Africa. Modern mermaids are just as diverse, as Ali Weinstein’s charming new film illustrates.
From the personal stories of the women who worked as mermaids at the famed Weeki Wachee Resort, where Elvis was an occasional visitor, to more contemporary mermaids getting together to swim, to a professional mermaid and her mother (mer-mom?) who create mermaid-themed birthday parties, to the Mermaid of Harlem, who deals with her mental health issues by putting on the fins and swimming — mermaid culture is wonderfully inclusive. As one of the women featured in the film says, “All tails are welcome.” The most compelling aspect of mermaid culture is the sense of community. The original Weeki Wachee mermaids, who met in the 1950s and bonded as mer- sisters, still meet up and swim together more than fifty years later.
The film poses more in-depth questions around the human desire to subsume identity. The need to escape the confines and boundaries of humanity, to shed our skins and inhabit the body of another is certainly part of the appeal, but beneath it all is a buoyant and empowering sense of freedom. This charming and big-hearted film is a gorgeous, glamorous tribute to the siren sea creature in all of us. Jump in! The water is fine. -JB