Halle Bailey's Representation of Little Mermaid Inspires Black Girls and Triggers Bigots

Responses to the singer's beautiful portrayal of the mermaid Ariel in the Disney live-action remake have ranged from inspired to disheartening.

Hailey Bailey
Photo: Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb

Over the weekend, Disney held its D23 fan expo where for the first time, we got a glimpse of Halle Bailey as Ariel in the upcoming live-action "Little Mermaid." In 2019, Disney announced that Bailey, one half of the Grammy-nominated duo Chloe x Halle, would play the titular mermaid in the remake.

In the teaser trailer, Bailey as Ariel is under the sea (no pun intended) and is shown singing just one line from the famous soundtrack song, "Part of Your World."

That minute and a half was enough to set the internet ablaze with both the joy of young Black girls seeing themselves represented in a Disney princess with brown skin and long locs and racists upset by the same thing.

Princesses, in Every Single Way

In Henry Giroux's 2010 book, "The mouse that roared: Disney and the end of innocence," he describes Disney, as a whole, as a "teaching machine." He explains that through a media conglomeration like Disney, "young people construct and support their identities, values, and knowledge of the world."

It's long-established that marginalized people need to see themselves reflected positively in the media.

"There's this body of research and a term known as 'symbolic annihilation,' which is the idea that if you don't see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant," Nicole Martins, an associate professor at Indiana University told HuffPost in 2017.

In this case, that means Bailey's prominence and rise to Disney princess-hood is all the more meaningful. And she understands what it will mean for Black children to see her as a mermaid.

"I want the little girl in me and the little girls just like me who are watching to know that they're special, and that they should be a princess in every single way," Bailey told Variety in a recent interview. "There's no reason that they shouldn't be. That reassurance was something that I needed."

"What that would have done for me, how that would have changed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything," Bailey continued, talking about what seeing the original Ariel as a Black girl would've meant to her. "Things that seem so small to everyone else, it's so big to us."

Representation Matters

Since the trailer's release, parents have been posting their daughters' reactions to seeing Bailey.

NowThis has compiled a few of the videos:

Even better, Bailey has definitely seen the impact she's already having on little girls and the film won't be in theaters for eight more months.

She's retweeted some of the videos and expressed her appreciation:

On the flip side, three years ago when Disney announced Bailey as Ariel, the hashtag #NotMyAriel gained a bit of steam. It hit a resurgence over the weekend with the trailer. Racist pundits have taken to Twitter complaining that the casting choice erases redhead culture or ignores the fact that the original story by Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish fairy tale.

There was even an account that shared edited images from the trailer with Bailey replaced by a white actress and the promise of being able to edit the entire film when it comes out via AI.

However, all of those racist opinions do not matter. Overwhelmingly, the opinions are positive and excited to see Bailey's interpretation of Ariel, and they come from children and adults alike.

The Little Mermaid is in theaters May 26, 2023.

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