After the joyful announcement that Halle Bailey would play Ariel in the remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, not all fans of the 1989 classic tale were excited. Hateful responses in the form of tweets and hashtags including #NotMyAriel and #NotMyMermaid exploded on social media criticizing the black actress replacing the former white character in the live-action remake.
Disney’s Freeform network stepped up to defend the singer and actress. The company posted on its Instagram account a lengthy response, headlining the retort: “An open letter to the Poor, Unfortunate Souls: #TheLittleMermaid #Ariel #MyAriel.” Freeform also mentions that “Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black.”
Supporters chimed in and gave outpouring support including Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, Janelle Monae, Zendaya and Lin-Manuel Miranda, as reported by NBC News. The outlet also reports that this is the first time that Disney has announced a woman of color to star in a live-action remake of a traditionally white princess role.
Director of the production, Rob Marshall, spoke to Bailey’s talents, saying that she “possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role.”
The original Little Mermaid, Jodi Benson, spoke at the Florida Supercon Convention (July 6), in support of Bailey. “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,” Benson said. “And the outside package—cause let’s face it, I’m really, really old—and so when I’m singing ‘Part of Your World,’ if you were to judge me on the way that I look on the outside, it might change the way that you interpret the song. But if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel.”
Benson continued to state that the most important part of the film is the story. “We need to be storytellers,” she said. “And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story.”
Bailey currently stars alongside her sister, Chloe, and a talented cast including Yara Shahidi in the Freeform comedy Grown-ish.