Over the past decade, television and film companies have invested in and executed sequels and reboots of countless classic shows and movies. It’s no surprise that Disney has continued to serve as the powerhouse it is in this subgenre of remakes. With that being said, in early July it was announced that singer Halle Bailey from the singing duo ChloeXHalle, will play Princess Ariel in the live-action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
While ABC’s Grown-ish actress expressed this as being a dream come true, for some it is a source of extreme controversy. A multitude of fans and critics alike flocked to social media to voice their outrage, with the hashtag #NotMyAriel, some even went as far as creating a petition asking for a new lead. Those upset by the decision claim that having Princess Ariel portrayed as a young black woman is too far a stretch for this retelling.
Aside from the backlash, this is still a milestone in the making. While we have had Disney Princesses of color before, such as Anika Noni Rose as Princess Tiana in Princess and the Frog. Disney has never shied away from casting roles to actors and actresses of color in previously white roles; for example, Brandy and Keke Palmer have both played roles as Cinderella on screen and on stage. As well as Toni Braxton as Belle on Broadway and the list continues.
The Disney branch at FreeForm released a statement saying to these “poor unfortunate souls” in support of the choice to cast Bailey, “…for the sake of argument, let’s say that Ariel, too, is Danish. Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black… but spoiler alert…the character of Ariel is a work of fiction. So after all this is said and done, and you cannot get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly-talented, gorgeous Halle Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that is because she “doesn’t look like the cartoon one”, oh boy, do I have some news for you…about you.”
Moreover, Jodi Benson, the primary voice of Princess Ariel herself, has also defended this choice saying “The most important thing is to tell the story…I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart, and their spirit, is what really counts…And that’s what we want to do…So I know for Disney that they have the heart of storytelling, that’s really what they’re trying to do. They want to communicate with all of us in the audience so that we can fall in love with the film again.”
Bailey as our first black Princess Ariel is worth all of the excitement, and we should be celebrating this role and hope that other production companies are inspired by this and in turn, not only retell stories with people of color but create diverse original content as well.
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