Halle Bailey knew that there would be backlash against her being cast in Disney's live-action The Little Mermaid because of her skin tone.
Disney seemingly struck gold with its decision to remake many of its classic cartoons into live-action features, and even though these CGI-heavy films usually lack the magic of the original animation, Disney can rely on each of these more adult-friendly remakes to make a stable profit at the box office. Therefore, it was inevitable that the company would eventually decide to remake The Little Mermaid, but once word got out that Halle Bailey would be playing Ariel (a character that appeared white in the original cartoon), another inevitable thing happened: backlash to the casting decision. But in an interview with The Face, Bailey said that “As a Black person, you just expect it, and it’s not really a shock anymore.”
It helps that Halle Bailey has a very practical view of dealing with online criticism of The Little Mermaid’s casting decisions. For example, she tries to live by the advice of Beyoncé, who told her something that every creator knows to be true: “don’t ever read the comments.” To emphasize this point, Bailey points out that she was in attendance at the D23 expo when the first teaser dropped and “didn’t see any of the negativity,” so it looks like the backlash is something coming from an angry, highly-vocal online minority rather than a larger cross-section of Disney fans.
As for working with Disney as a company, Bailey seems to have had a very positive experience at every level of making The Little Mermaid. In that same interview, she touched on the fact that Disney made specific design choices for her character based on what was important to Bailey, and that was especially important when it came to her character’s hair. “It was really cool for them to make Ariel a version of me with my locs,” she said.
It also helps Halle Bailey deal with the haters out there when she remembers that simply taking this iconic role in The Little Mermaid means that she is an inspiration to others out there who may take comfort in the casting. “When you’re Black, there’s this whole other community,” she said, noting how “It’s so important for us to see ourselves” (though Idris Elba might disagree). Now, hateful online comments mean less to her than the potential positive impact she could have on someone else’s life: “If somebody can take something away from whatever character I’m playing, that’s all that matters to me.”
And as it turns out, Halle Bailey is an actor who knows how to use her own struggles to bring hidden emotions and depths to life onscreen. She pointed out how “Ariel has this longing for something more” and how, even though the character doesn’t know exactly what she is looking for, “she has to be brave in order to find it on her own.” While the young star didn’t explicitly connect these dots, it seems that knowing that she would be receiving hateful backlash from angry fans of The Little Mermaid on the internet helped Bailey to convincingly bring to life a character who is always struggling to fit in and find happiness.
If you want to see how well Halle Bailey brings The Little Mermaid to life, you won’t have to wait long – the movie is coming soon. It premieres on May 26. It will be interesting to see whether racist fans reacting to this casting decision continue their furor at that point or if they will find another aspect of the culture war to latch onto. Either way, it seems a peaceful Bailey will be living her best life and expanding her impressive career regardless of what the haters say.