There’s nothing I love more than a remake of a classic, especially when it comes with a modern twist. Such is the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, which stars Halle Bailey as the titular character and is set to premiere this May. But thanks to centuries of Hollywood’s white-washed media, Bailey, a Black woman, wasn’t who the public had in mind to play Ariel. (Apparently, the racial identity of fictional characters will always be a thorn in racist viewers’ sides.) And sadly, Bailey wasn’t surprised by the racist backlash her casting garnered. “As a Black person, you just expect it and it’s not really a shock anymore,” Bailey told The Face in a recent interview.
The first teaser for the film, which was released in September, brought an onslaught of online hate. The hashtag #NotMyAriel began trending on Twitter, with people complaining that Bailey looks “nothing like Ariel.” (I’m pretty sure we all know what that’s code for!) Luckily, there are people in the industry in Bailey’s corner, who have advised her on how to protect herself as a Black celebrity figure… such as Beyoncé herself. “When [Chlöe and I] first signed to Parkwood, B was always like, ‘I never read my comments. Don’t ever read the comments.’” Bailey recounted. “Honestly, when the teaser came out, I was at the D23 Expo [The Ultimate Fan Event] and I was so happy. I didn’t see any of the negativity.”
Helping to drown out the hate was the flood of touching TikToks of young Black girls seeing Bailey in the trailer for the first time, shocked and overjoyed that the iconic mermaid looked like them. “I know people are like, ‘It’s not about race.’ But now that I’m her… [...] People don’t understand that when you’re Black there’s this whole other community. It’s so important for us to see ourselves,” Bailey said. Understandably, the reactions from little girls made Bailey emotional: “I was crying all night for two days, just staring at them in disbelief. It makes me feel more grateful for where I am.”
The 22-year-old was cast for The Little Mermaid in July of 2019 in what The Face calls “the most prominent example of color-blind casting to date.” Like many stars who have endured racism within the industry—including acting powerhouses like Sandra Oh—Bailey was incredulous when she was first offered the role. According to Bailey, all she could muster during the call was, “Huh? Me?” [...] I’m like, ‘Why would they ask me?’”
As she plunged deeper into the role, Bailey found herself resonating with her character more than she originally expected. “I felt like God was lining up themes in my life with the character. Ariel has this longing for something more,” she explained. “She doesn’t quite know what it is yet, but she has to be brave in order to find it on her own. Being away from everybody for the first time in my life, I really loved those themes of knowing that it’s okay to be fearful and pushing through it.”
I can’t wait for Bailey to light up the screen as Ariel, and inspire an entire generation of young Black girls along the way.