Halle Bailey is the perfect Ariel

Disney casting opens doors for representation in Hollywood

Young Black girls will grow up with a princess who looks like them.  

This week, Disney released the teaser trailer for their upcoming live action remake of The Little Mermaid, set to release in May 2023 and starring Halle Bailey as Ariel. 

Since Bailey’s casting was announced in 2019, angered fans have swum to the surface to argue about the choice to cast a Black woman in an originally white role.

The arguments against her casting range wide. Some claim she simply isn't the right fit, deftly avoiding why they think such an accomplished singer and actress wouldn’t do well in musical-based roles. Others are much plainer: the original Ariel is white, and Halle Bailey is Black.

With an amazingly powerful voice, the ability to reach Disney princess-esque high notes, previous acting experience, and the grace and style of royalty, you would think Bailey’s casting would be celebrated more than argued about.

My opinion: Halle Bailey is the perfect choice for representation and inclusivity in Hollywood. If I had bet on her sinking or swimming in this role, my money’s on swim.

For starters, Halle Bailey is a widely known vocalist like her sister, Chloe.

Halle and her sister broke out in the music scene with their Grammy award-nominated album Ungodly Hour, which demonstrated their immense talent. Their stellar vocals dominated the album and opened doors for them outside of music. Bailey also showcased her acting skills in the popular sitcom Grownish as the character Skyler Foster.

More importantly, Bailey’s skin colour does not affect the plot of the movie, so there’s no reason to object to it. I mean, seriously, everyone’s aware the plot of the movie surrounds a fictional mermaid and an evil octopus woman, right? Why is the main concern Ariel’s skin colour?

Criticizing Bailey simply because she’s Black is racist, point blank. It demonstrates the disproportionate criticism levelled at Black people in the entertainment industry.

The same people who complain about Black people portraying formerly white characters have nothing to say when people of colour are often and consistently whitewashed.

Just look at Scarlett Johansson’s infamous casting as the lead in Japanese-manga-turned-movie Ghost in the Shell or Angelina Jolie’s casting as an Afro-Cuban woman in A Mighty Heart.

Whitewashing erases people of colours’ experiences, cultural history, and presence in media. Casting a Black actress as a beloved Disney character brings broader representation, cultural impact, and inclusivity to the predominantly white mainstream media.

While Hollywood is getting progressively more diverse, the big roles available are still skewed in favour of white people. Actors and actresses of colour—particularly Black women—struggle to get roles even if they have a ridiculous number of accolades.

Look at Viola Davis, one of the best actresses of our generation. She recently opened up about how her race and her darker skin still makes it difficult for her to get roles, despite being incredibly accomplished.

Having a Black actress play Ariel is a monumental step forward. Bailey’s casting represents diversification and representation for the next generation of Black girls.

The Disney princess line-up is famously white. In Disney's long history, there has only been one mainstream Black princess: Tiana from The Princess and the Frog.

It’s hard to feel represented, worthy, and beautiful when the characters that are upheld as models of beauty grace almost never look like you. Bailey could help make a whole generation of girls of colour who are so often underrepresented feel powerful.

Young girls of colour will be able to grow up seeing a princess that looks like them, not to mention one who’s beautiful and talented, and whose stellar vocal talent is likely to add a new dimension to some of the most iconic Disney songs.

For old Disney fans—especially older Disney fans of colour—I can say for sure this casting would mean a lot to them as well. It’s immensely touching to see one of your favourite characters finally look like you after growing up unrepresented.

This casting choice brings hope to the next generation that Hollywood is stepping in the right direction toward a more inclusive representation of people of colour.

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