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Halle Bailey Talks About Racist Backlash After Her Little Mermaid Casting, And How Her Family Supported Her

Halle Bailey in the music video for Ungodly Hour
(Image credit: SME)

When Halle Bailey was announced as the new Ariel for Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, the news was met with an unfortunately unsurprising backlash. Bailey, by virtue of not being white with red hair, did not look identical to the animated version of the fictional cartoon singing mermaid. Some of the Little Mermaid criticism could only be described as racist, but Bailey has credited her family for helping her deal with it.

The live-action Little Mermaid is still nearly a year away but due to the various pandemic delays in making the movie, it’s been more than three years since Halle Bailey was officially announced as Ariel, and three years that she’s been dealing with various degrees of hate. This despite the fact that Bailey isn’t even the first person of color to play Ariel. Bailey tells Variety that she gained perspective on the whole situation from her grandparents, who spoke with her frankly about their own battles with racism, and told her how important what she was doing was. Bailey explained…

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.’

While there have been those critical of the choice to cast a person of color as Ariel, just as many if not more have been supportive. Jodi Benson, the voice of the original Ariel is one of those that has come out in support of successor. It’s potentially inspiring to see a Black woman play such an iconic Disney role, and Halle Bailey herself says that it would have meant a great deal to her to see a Disney Princess that looks like her when she was young and completely wearing out her VHS tape of The Little Mermaid. She admits seeing herself in the role of Ariel has been emotional

There was likely some expectation from all involved once Disney decided to cast Halle Bailey that there would be some harsh responses. Some Disney outlets, like Freeform, have even addressed the criticism head on. Luckily, Bailey has not had to deal with it all herself. Her sister Chloe Bailey says having a strong support system is vital and so she’s certainly there to help her sister, saying…

It’s important to have a strong support system around you. It’s hard to carry the weight of the world on your own.

At this point, people are judging the live-action Little Mermaid sight unseen, because with the exception of some promotional images, we have nothing to go on. The good news is that will probably change soon. While nothing has been officially announced, it seems like a strong possibility we could get a first look at The Little Mermaid at next month’s D23 Expo. It’s possible only those in attendance will get to see it, as not everything there gets released to the public, but likely before long people will at least have something real to base an opinion on.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.