Halle Bailey’s portrayal of the mermaid Ariel in Disney’s live-action version of The Little Mermaid has received mixed reactions from fans, but undeniably, her performance inspires Black girls and adds a refreshing twist to the iconic character.
On September 9–11, 2022, Disney debuted Halle Bailey as Ariel in the upcoming live-action Little Mermaid during the D23 fan conference. For the 2019 version, Disney cast Bailey, one half of the Grammy-nominated combo Chloe x Halle, as the title character.
Bailey, in her role as Ariel, may be seen in the trailer singing a snippet of the song “Part of Your World,” which was featured prominently in the film’s original soundtrack.
About a minute and a half of witnessing a Disney princess with brown complexion and long locs brought delight to young Black girls and anger to racists everywhere.
True Princesses in Every Sense of the Word
Henry Giroux calls Disney a “teaching machine” in his 2010 book, The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the Loss of Innocence. He explains that “young people develop and sustain their identities, beliefs, and knowledge of the world through a media conglomerate like Disney.”
It’s common knowledge that minorities require positive role models in the media.
“There is a field of study and idea called “symbolic annihilation,” which is the idea that if you don’t see people who look like you in the media you watch, you must not be important,” Nicole Martins, an associate professor at Indiana University, told HuffPost in 2017.
This makes Bailey’s rise to fame and status as a Disney princess that much more significant. And she knows the significance of her mermaid image for kids of color.
Bailey recently told Variety that she hopes her portrayal of a princess would inspire young girls who identify with her character. “Really, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be. I really appreciated the reassurance.”
If the original Ariel had been a Black girl, “what that would have done for me, how that would have transformed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything,” Bailey said. “What may appear trivial to others is monumental to us.”
Proper Representation Is Crucial
Parental reactions to watching their daughters’ reactions to Bailey in the teaser have been flooding the internet ever since.
Bailey has witnessed firsthand her influence on young women, even though the film won’t be shown to the public for another eight months.
On the flip side, the hashtag #NotmyAriel gained some traction three years ago when Disney introduced Bailey as Ariel. The trailer helped it gain new interest over the weekend. Racial commentators have turned to Twitter to express their outrage at the casting decision, claiming that it erases redhead culture or overlooks that Hans Christian Andersen’s original narrative was a Danish fairy tale.
Someone even made a Twitter account promising to edit the entire film using AI and posting photos of the teaser in which a white actress had replaced Bailey.
But, any prejudiced viewpoint is irrelevant. Children and adults alike have expressed enthusiasm and positivity about Bailey’s version of Ariel.
On May 26th, 2023, see Disney’s The Little Mermaid in theaters.
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