*deep sigh* It took very little time for haters online to start complaining that a person of color is playing Ariel in Disney’s upcoming live-action The Little Mermaid. Sadly predictable and exhausting behavior from trudges of the internet. Halle Bailey is one half of chloe x halle, a singing duo of sisters who took YouTube by storm with their covers and original songs. These powerhouses have raked in a ton of accolades, performed on award shows, and even went on to open for Beyoncé. And they’re both so likable, too. Halle is gracious, incredibly talented, and the perfect example of what a Disney Princess should be. In every definitive way, she is worthy of this role. Spoiler alert: the other frontrunners for this role were Zendaya and Keke Palmer, this mermaid was always going to be black and beautiful.
In many instances, the history and locale of these stories (long before Disney put their mark on them) dictate how the princesses were animated. I will be the first to say, any actor can play almost any part. I enjoyed both Brandi and Lily James as Cinderella. I loved British Belle from France. But if the movie is set in China like Mulan (2020) is, I would expect to see an authentic representation of Chinese people and their culture. There is a method behind Disney’s madness. Stories like Snow White and Rapunzel have deep German roots, which is why they were animated as fair-skinned women. Far more goes into the character design process than just selecting a palette and passing the sketches off to production.
The Little Mermaid was originally Hans Christian Anderson’s brainchild. After the evil sea witch takes pseudo-Ariel’s tongue, she loses her shot with the prince and bursts into seafoam. It’s a wildly imaginative tale, not set within any confounds except imagination. Mermaids aren’t real. They have no race, they can be every ethnicity. Atlantica could be home to any and all merfolk. That takeaway provides Disney with extra room to formulate the most diverse princess movie ever. In an era of cyber-trolls, there is no better counter response “Ariel is supposed to be white” than “mermaids don’t exist, she’s not supposed to be anything besides a beloved character with a lot of heart.” Even besides that though, there is no one perspective to view a character from. A beloved character is an entity not a face. Even ask James Bond.
This is just the start, though. As these live-action renditions move forward, I know the creative teams at Disney will continue to pick the best actor for the job. If you happen to hear people converse about this topic (as I’m sure we all will) be bold in applauding Disney with the casting of Halle Bailey. She got the role because she was the best choice. Bailey represents a piece of an ongoing conversation: don’t we all want to see ourselves in the material that we love so much? Doesn’t every little girl, from any given background, deserve to see herself on screen as a princess? Representation is powerful magic, and this film is going to be full of it.
What do you think of the casting choice of Halle Bailey as Ariel? Let us know in a comment below.
The Little Mermaid is eyeing a 2021 release