Casting Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid is a splash in the right direction

Black actress to star in Disney’s 2021 live-action remake of a beloved classic

According to Zhou

This July, Disney announced that Black actress and R&B singer Halle Bailey will star as Ariel in its upcoming remake of The Little Mermaid. This decision marks the first time a woman of colour will play a traditionally white heroine in one of Disney’s live-action adaptations. It’s an event worth discussing, particularly in today’s society, where diverse media representation can not only influence how minorities are perceived by others, but also how they perceive themselves.

Although Bailey doesn’t have the fair skin, blue eyes, or red hair universally recognized in the cartoon version of Ariel, director Rob Marshall said in a statement he was confident the actress “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.”

I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the news. Given the recent remakes of Beauty and The Beast and The Lion King, it seemed like Disney was set on creating live-action films that closely mirror their animated originals. Disney’s casting of Bailey as Ariel proves otherwise, and shows that the studio isn’t afraid to break away from tradition and appeal to diverse, forward-looking audiences.

As viewers tend to look to their favourite movies for ideas and inspiration on how to take on the world, the representation of characters becomes increasingly important. It’s easier for young girls of colour to connect to the storyline and imagine their own possibilities for a “happily ever after” of their own making when they see themselves reflected onscreen. This is especially true when actors and actresses in leading roles have skin tone or cultures similar to their own. 

Let’s get #BlackPrincessAriel trending to show support our for Princess Ariel being played by a young woman of color, Halle Bailey. It doesn’t seem “typical” to you but for POC it’s a big moment in Disney princess history. A black woman playing Ariel? Wut? Hell yeah.

— Kenidra4Humanity (@KenidraRWoods_) July 4, 2019

 Growing up as a Chinese-Canadian, I loved watching Mulan. This was largely because it was exciting to have a Disney princess who shared my physical features and to see reflections of my own culture on the big screen. 

However, not everyone views Bailey’s casting in a positive light. The announcement has sparked an extensive debate online about whether it was the right choice, as the hashtag #NotMyAriel started trending on Twitter after Bailey’s casting was made public. Some critics and fans argue that the live-action version should remain true to the 1989 animation, while others draw attention to the discrepancy from the fairy tale’s Danish origins. 

People should remember that what makes these stories so special in the first place is that they aren’t bound by the rules of reality. When we open our minds to enter an underwater world with adventurous mermaids and wicked sea witches, the accuracy of Ariel’s skin colour should sink to the bottom of our worries. 

Unlike Mulan, where the country and culture are key components of the plot, The Little Mermaid centers on the love story between a mermaid and her prince, and its dilemma lies on choosing between the land and sea. Casting a minority as the protagonist achieves remarkable diversity—and it does so without disrupting the story and its message. 

Bailey’s casting may be unexpected, but it’s a step forward. People shouldn’t be quick to criticize her suitability for the main role, especially when they have yet to see her performance. After all, Ariel’s authenticity is revealed through the character’s optimistic energy and charming curiosity—qualities which certainly don’t run skin-deep. 


Actress, Pop Culture, Twitter

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