Why Some People Are Hating on Halle Bailey’s Casting as Ariel in ‘The Little Mermaid’

When Disney announced that Halle Bailey would be playing the role of Ariel in its live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, many fans were excited to hear that the young singer got the part. As congratulations rolled in from fans and celebrities like Halle Berry and Zendaya, so did the bitterness.

Bailey, one half of the sibling R&B group Chloe x Halle and protégé of Beyoncé, has the talent to pull this off. The 19-year-old is a professional singer and has been acting since she was a little girl, so being in a musical is more than a good fit. So, why are people throwing hate her way?

Halle Bailey
Halle Bailey |Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Social media comments tell ugly truth

Though people won’t admit it outright, it can be said that it boils down to one thing: bigotry. Deadline was one of the first to report on Bailey’s casting and noted that Disney is adding a twist by casting a black woman for the role. For decades, Disney movies have become part of entertainment history and childhood memories that span generations. With that comes the reality that many of Disney’s most popular characters—namely princesses—have traditionally been white, including Ariel. In the minds of some Disney fans, the red-headed animated mermaid is supposed to look exactly the same way she does for the CGI reboot.

The movie’s director, Rob Marshall, was full of praise for Bailey, calling her a frontrunner during the casting process and highlighting her gifts, saying:

“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.”

But the decision prompted a “#NotMyAriel” movement on Twitter where people are showing their true feelings about Bailey’s casting. A number of posts shared these sentiments:

Another commenter wrote, “Y’all respect all the original princesses looks in all the live actions so far and decide to ruin Ariel…wtf??? Absolute garbage…keep it classic or nothing…better not change the characters in Disney World meet and greets.”

As far as princesses go, Tiana of The Princess and the Frog is the only other black princess in Disney history. While there hasn’t been a live-action remake of that film, other famous fairy tales—Disney versions or not—have been retold with people of color. One of most popular was 1997’s Cinderella with Brandy and Whitney Houston.

But the mermaid vitriol did not go unnoticed by Twitter users from all walks of life who were quick to point out that film fact and the fact that Ariel is a mythological fish girl who doesn’t even belong to the human race. A social media war was waged.

Defense and support for Halle Bailey

NBC reported that the movie isn’t expected to come out until 2020, but fans are elated about seeing this latest version of The Little Mermaid. Online, well wishes poured in for Bailey as people celebrated the casting news. Jonelle Monáe, Lin-Manuel Miranda (one of the film’s producers), and Mariah Carey were among the stars sending love to the singer:

After seeing a slew of nasty comments, some redheads even tweeted their support for Bailey. One user commented, “I grew up loving Ariel because she was the first princess with red hair like me, and my daughter loves her for the same reason! I’m so excited that young POC will be able to share the joy of a princess that looks like them! You will be a gorgeous Ariel! Congratulations!”

Opinions are popping up on Twitter and media sites about why Bailey is the perfect choice for the character as a young woman of color and as someone who will do the musical film justice. Many pointed out that Disney can do as it pleases with casting for its movies and shows, citing The Descendants as one example.

Attitudes and opinions can be hard to sway when people become emotionally invested in characters and stories, but perhaps this ugly war of words will subside when The Little Mermaid is released in theaters. Millions of people consider Ariel to be a beloved character and are beyond excited to see Bailey take on the role in the iconic children’s tale. Mermaids rule.