Halle Bailey discussed how she handled the racism she encountered after being chosen to play Disney’s Princess Ariel in a recent interview with Variety.
Despite the scale of Disney’s global storytelling, there has only ever been one Black Disney Princess in the organization’s 99-year history: Princess Tiana, who debuted on our screens in 2009 with the New Orleans-set fable The Princess and the Frog. Black people celebrated online when Halle Bailey was chosen to play Ariel in the upcoming live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid in 2019. The thought of a Black woman playing a mythical mermaid, however, baffled some, leading to the trending hashtag #NotMyAriel, under which social media users shared racist remarks and memes and declared they did not support the movie.
At the time, Halle asserted that she ignored the criticism by choosing to “pay attention to the thankfulness” as a substitute. The celebrity is now coming up about how she handled the racial abuse she received online. The Ungodly Hour singer said to Variety that her grandparents provided supportive words of empathy among the mockery, reflecting on their own personal encounters with prejudice and discrimination.
They told 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,” which Halle described as “inspiring and lovely.”
The Grown-ish star also discussed how seeing a Black, live-action version of Ariel would have affected her younger self: “What that would have done for me, how that would have transformed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything.” Things that are enormous to others are minute to us.
Halle continued, “I want the young girl inside of me and the little girls watching to know that they’re important and that they should be a princess in every manner. There is no justification why they shouldn’t be.
Rob Marshall, the director of The Little Mermaid, even supported Halle’s selection, insisting that despite any criticism, she was the ideal choice for the part. In his words, “After a thorough investigation, it was abundantly evident that Halle possessed that unique combination of personality, heart, youth, innocence and substance—plus a magnificent singing voice—all intrinsic traits necessary to play this legendary role.”
Unfortunately, Halle has joined a long list of Black actors who have appeared in fictional roles and who have endured severe racial abuse from those who can envision a world where Stormtroopers, demigods, and mermaids exist but cannot envision them as Black. This list also includes John Boyega, Moses Ingram, and Leah Jeffries. Because of how important our humanity is, black people and other communities of color should be able to identify with every aspect of storytelling. We deserve to witness all of it, whether it takes the shape of true stories or legends about a mermaid singing to a crab underwater.
We want to witness Halle’s outstanding performance right away if the actors’ emotional responses to her singing on set are any clue. The Little Mermaid will be played by Halle Bailey when the movie premieres in theaters on May 26, 2023.
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