“Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role.”
Kids react to Halle Bailey playing Ariel in Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid.”
It’s been seven years since Disney announced plans for a live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” and four years since Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel.
“After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role.”
He didn’t bring up her race, but others did, for better or worse.
While some applauded the casting of a non-white actress, the hashtag #NotMyAriel revealed that a segment of the public objected to a Black actress playing Ariel. Some claimed that the character was supposed to be a fair-skinned redhead, and that making her black was not true to the story’s Danish origins. Bailey told Variety in an interview that she relied on the support and encouragement of her family members, including her grandparents, to deal with the racist backlash directed at her.
“It was an inspiring and beautiful thing to hear their words of encouragement, telling me, ‘You don’t understand what this is doing for us, for our community, for all the little Black and brown girls who are going to see themselves in you,’” Bailey told Variety.
As for the criticisms, as many have pointed out, Ariel is a fictional mermaid living in a fantasy world where race is irrelevant. Danish people can be black, and black people can be redheads, and the colors of Ariel’s features are unimportant to the plot.
Casting a Black actress, on the other hand, is significant, particularly for young Black viewers who rarely see themselves physically reflected in the world of Disney princesses. Snow White was the first Disney princess to be introduced in 1937, and we didn’t see a non-white princess until Jasmine in “Aladdin” in 1992. Disney has had some catching up to do in the last 30 years in order to create a more diverse and representative offering of its iconic characters.
Parents have been sharing their children’s reactions to seeing the new teaser trailer for the live-action “The Little Mermaid,” which demonstrates why representation is so important.
Here are just a few examples:
As one Upworthy commenter pointed out on Instagram, representation can be very powerful for children. “As a ginger child who was constantly teased for the color of her hair and skin when the Little Mermaid came out, I felt represented when the Disney princess looked like me, and she was and still is my favorite.” It’s beautiful to see Ariel making a new generation of little girls feel seen and represented.
As I stroll on TikTok, I keep seeing parents video their children reacting to The Little Mermaid trailer. So instead of focusing so much on the negative, I thought I’d show a thread of the little black kids who are excited to see their favorite princess look like them.— Lai💔 (@normanination4) September 11, 2022
Never fear if you’re worried about how this casting choice will affect redhead representation. First and foremost, the live-action Ariel, played by Halle Bailey, has red hair, so there’s that. Second, despite accounting for only 1% to 2% of the population, redheads are already well-represented in the land of Disney princesses. Aside from Ariel, other animated princesses include Merida (from “Brave”) and Anna (from “Frozen,” though she isn’t technically considered a princess), as well as Giselle from the live-action film “Enchanted” (though she isn’t considered an “official” princess, either). Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog” is the only official animated Black princess. We had singer Brandy play Cinderella in a 1997 live-action TV film as a live-action Black princess.
Now, Halle Bailey has been cast as Ariel, which is a welcome choice for Black Disney princess fans who have rarely had the opportunity to see themselves as “part of that world.” And, based on the trailer, it’s going to be truly magical.