Halle Bailey (Not Halle Berry): How ‘The Little Mermaid’ Star Earned Her Spotlight

By now, the world knows that Halle Bailey has been cast as Ariel in Disney’s live-action Little Mermaid remake. And by now, the world knows that some very loud voices are very unhappy about it. 

Lost amid all that controversy is Bailey herself. There has been so much focus on the negative reaction to her casting, that exactly who Bailey is and what she’s done has been forgotten or glossed over. We aim to rectify that here.

Who is Halle Bailey?

Chloe X Halle
Chloe X Halle | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

To start, she’s not to be confused with the actress Halle Berry. Bailey, 19, is half of the duo Chloe X Halle. The other half is her sister Chloe, 21. They began by posting covers of pop songs on YouTube when they were only 13 and 11. 

One of the songs they covered was Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts.” That attracted the attention of none other than Queen Bey herself, who signed the duo to a recording contract for a cool $1 million. That led to “Pretty Hurts” being viewed more than 17 million times.

Cosmopolitan described the girls this way: “Chloe is also a mini Beyonce, in terms of vocals and sass-filled delivery. Halle is more like Corrinne Bailey Rae or – if you want to push the whole sister thing – Solange.”

According to Page Six, their father said in court papers that “We cannot think of a better person to help guide the girls.” Their contracted provided for up to six albums over five years. 

This in turn got the attention of Disney and director Rob Marshall, who knows his way around Disney musicals in particular, having most recently made Mary Poppins Returns.

They picked Bailey to be part of their world, with Marshall noting, “After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle 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 Ariel and others defend Bailey

Bailey was naturally thrilled at the news, posting on Instagram an image of Ariel with brown skin and black hair. Unfortunately, some corners of the Internet went ballistic, with the hashtag #NotMyAriel trending.

They just couldn’t accept Ariel as anything other than white or red-headed, even though her race and hair color were not intrinsic to the role as portrayed in the 1989 Disney animated movie. Only her voice was. 

Bailey herself hasn’t responded publicly to the backlash yet, but one could argue she doesn’t have to. Many people have responded on her behalf, including Donald Glover, now starring in Disney’s Lion King remake. He addressed Bailey directly.

“We were just watching that film and I’m like, that’s such a great story but I’m just like, I dunno, I just hope that she’s like having fun and don’t let anybody make you feel the opposite of how you want to feel,” Glover said. “It’s a very special role and you earned it, so I hope you’re listening.”

Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in the 1989 movie, also supported the casting, saying, “We want to make a connection to the audience. 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.”

Disney has tried to be more inclusive lately

Disney has faced considerable criticism for racial issues in the past. In 1992, when the animated Aladdin was released, Arab groups decried the lyric “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” in the song “Arabian Nights.” Disney changed the lyrics to “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense.”

Controversy cropped up recently too, with The Lone Ranger, which was criticized for Johnny Depp playing Tonto. It was the age-old question of “Do we cast someone of appropriate race in the role, or do we cast a star who will put butts in seats?”

More recently,  Disney faced criticism again when Doctor Strange’s Tilda Swinton was cast in a part originally conceived as a Tibetan man.

In response, Disney has made a concerted effort to broaden its casting, both in the Aladdin and Lion King remakes, and the casting has been well received.

The Little Mermaid remake has no release date yet, but when it does come out, hopefully people will judge the movie and Bailey with open eyes and ears.