Responding to the criticisms of her race-swapped casting as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of their animated take on the Danish fairytale, The Little Mermaid star Halle Bailey has revealed that she was able to weather the negative reception by believing that her casting would be a huge win for black representation.
Speaking to the topic during a recent interview given for a profile in the outlet’s upcoming August issue of their physical magazine, Bailey explained to Variety writer Angelique Jackson that one of the major reasons she felt honored to be cast as Disney’s iconic red-headed mermaid was because she wanted “the little girl in me and the little girls just like me who are watching to know that they’re special, and that they should be a princess in every single way.”
“There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be,” she added. “That reassurance was something that I needed.”
Bailey then told Jackson that while it was hard to hear the criticisms against her casting – the vast majority of which were against it being yet another example of Hollywood’s penchant for race swapping established characters in order to score diversity point rather than anything to do with her as a person or actor – she found the strength to endure the backlash from the support offered by her family.
In particular, said the actress, it was the stories recounted by her grandparents relating the racism and bigotry they had suffered in the past that gave her a renewed sense of confidence in portraying the Disney princess.
“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,’” she said.
Imagining herself in the rhetorical girls’ shoes, Bailey then asserted, “What that would have done for me, how that would have changed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything.”
“Things that seem so small to everyone else,” she concluded, “it’s so big to us.”
Notably, this amicable response by Bailey to the criticisms of her casting stands in stark tonal contrast to the one previously given by the film’s production studio, Disney.
In July 2019, just three days after Bailey was revealed as the remake’s lead, the House of Mouse took to the Instagram account of their Freeform television channel to not only condescendingly dismiss the casting’s criticisms, but also infer that anyone who disagreed with them was a racist.
“Yes,” began Disney. “The original author of ‘The Little Mermaid’ was Danish. Ariel…is a mermaid. She lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can legit swim wherever she wants (even though that often upsets King Triton, absolute zaddy).”
“But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Ariel, too, is Danish,” the company continued. “Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black. Ariel can sneak up to the surface at any time with her pals Scuttle and the *ahem* Jamaican crab Sebastian (sorry, Flounder!) and keep that bronze base tight. Black Danish people, and thus mer-folk, can also *genetically* (!!!) have red hair.
“But spoiler alert – bring it back to the top – the character of Ariel is a work of fiction,” Disney concluded. “So after all this is said and done, and you still cannot get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly talented, gorgeous Halley Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that it is because she ‘doesn’t look like the cartoon’, oh boy, do I have some news for you…about you.”
Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid hits theaters in May 2023.