Disney Casts Halle Bailey in the New Little Mermaid, & the Internet Reacts07/04/2019
Big news for Disney fans! On Wednesday, Variety announced that this generation’s live-action Ariel had officially been found. And while that seems like reason enough to celebrate, the internet response to Halle Bailey in Disney’s Little Mermaid is proving to be one big debate about whether the casting department made the right call.
To be clear, all evidence points toward Bailey being an incredible Ariel. The Chloe x Halle member obviously has an incredible set of pipes, meaning she’ll have no problem belting out iconic hits like “Part of Your World.” Plus, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that Bailey has the sort of otherworldly beauty that makes her a shoo-in to play a mythical creature like a mermaid. She’s a talented actor, too. So, what’s the problem? Well, some fans can’t get past the fact that Bailey doesn’t have fair skin and flaming red hair like Ariel in the original animated feature.
One critic suggested actresses like Emma Stone and Jessica Chastain would have been a better fit, writing, “Just like originally they made Ariel white!!! ALLLL I’M SAYING I would’ve like to see Ariel just like they’ve always painted her.” Said another, “Everyone wants equality but the character looks the way they do for a reason. Ariel is white with red hair, sorry but it’s the way it is. It changes the whole idea lmao.”
Of course, on the other side of the argument, there were tons of people celebrating Disney’s decision to cast someone as talented as Bailey and someone who would revitalize Disney’s original princess-movie-canon with much-needed diversity.
As for the arguments being made against Bailey playing Ariel, there are pretty irrefutable counter-arguments. Many critics are taking issue with the fact that the original Ariel was fair-skinned with red hair, which Bailey is not. The hair is easy enough to address since there’s nothing saying Bailey won’t have red hair in the live-action remake.
But an even more pointed argument to make about Ariel’s flaming red hair is that it’s a Disney construct. As in, the Ariel on which the animated movie was based did not have red hair. In fact, her hair color is never referenced in the original story. However, as Hans Christian Andersen — the author of the original fairytale — was Danish, it’s assumed (and depicted as such in illustrations) that the fairytale Ariel had blonde hair. According to the Oh My Disney blog, Disney decided against sticking with Ariel’s original blonde hair since another extremely popular movie had recently been released with a blonde-haired mermaid: Splash, featuring Daryl Hannah.
Ariel’s fair-skin can also be explained by Andersen’s Danish heritage. But, again, Disney set its Little Mermaid in the Caribbean. And as Grace Randolph points out on Twitter, casting a woman of color actually makes perfect sense for a Caribbean-set film.
While critics are suggesting that there would be an uproar if Disney cast, for example, a white Mulan, the reality is that certain Disney princesses’ ethnicities are tied to their identities (Jasmine, Mulan, Tiana, etc). Since Disney doesn’t conflate Andersen’s original Danish heritage with the animated Ariel’s identity, the role really could be played by anyone. Plus, you know, she’s a mermaid, and the last time we checked no one really knows what they look like since they don’t exist in real life. So, there’s that.
Here’s looking forward to seeing what Bailey brings to this magical role. We’re already looking forward to the soundtrack!
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