Disney is currently working on a live-action retelling of its classic animated movie "The Little Mermaid". Quite recently, they announced that Ariel will be played by the beautifully talented Halle Bailey, known for playing in "grown-ish" on Freeform and being part of the singing group Chloe x Halle. In a statement, director Rob Marshall said, "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". This announcement is groundbreaking, because for the first time, an African-American actress will play a live-action princess.
Bailey shared the happy news on Twitter, saying this is "a dream come true". The internet broke over this announcement, some people overjoyed to see it, while others were not too happy. Being an African-American woman, Bailey's skin color differs from the original cartoon mermaid. Some are excited to have some more diversity in the Disney Princess franchise, while others took to Twitter to share their rage about live-action Ariel being black.
In an effort to debunk the arguments against Disney's casting choice, I want to say first and foremost that the character of Ariel is a fictional cartoon mermaid, first seen on-screen at a time when white seemed to be the only option for Disney princesses. Times are changing, and change is good. Mermaids are fictional creatures which can literally be depicted in any way, and with this retelling, Disney decided to do something different. But this also should not matter at all. The fact that people view this as some huge horrible thing is telling. To think that changing a character's race will somehow change the character is simply wrong. Also, another argument I see against Halle Bailey as Ariel is the fact that Ariel's iconic, bright red hair won't be pulled off. Which is also false. Even if a white ginger actress was cast as Ariel, she'd still have to dye it or wear a wig, simply because Ariel's red is unnatural regardless of race. But if you're not convinced that black women can pull off the Ariel red, look up Rihanna with red hair. That is all.
Anyways, the character of Ariel is not exclusively white, because her story really has nothing to do with her race, unlike the animated princesses of color like Jasmine, Tiana, and Pocahontas. This means that Mulan can not be played by a white actress because the story's setting in China is so crucial to the plot. Similarly, Moana's Polynesian heritage is pivotal to the story, much like Jasmine's ethnicity needs to stay the same as she's the daughter of a sultan. So no, making Ariel black is not even comparable to making Tiana white.
Many have publicly stood by Halle Bailey, such as Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in the original "The Little Mermaid" movie. While attending the Florida Supercon convention, Benson was asked by a fan at a panel how she felt about the live-action movie having a black Ariel. The voice-actress of animated Ariel replied by saying, "The most important thing is to tell the story".
"I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters," Benson continued. "What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart, and their spirit, is what really counts."
Additionally, Keke Palmer came to Bailey's defense as well, and she also played a princess - Cinderella on Broadway, so she was no stranger to the racist backlash. During an appearance on Strahan and Sara, Palmer commented, "But let me ask you this: why can't a mermaid be black? Why is that too unrealistic for you – because you do know she's friends with a talking crab, and I know you're not the sharpest people, but crabs can't talk. In fact, the entire thing is fiction!"
I believe that Halle Bailey will be a wonderful Ariel and do the character justice; after watching some videos of her singing, I'm excited to see the movie. Because that's what this really should be about, who can match the magical and goosebump-inducing voice of Ariel singing "Part of Your World", and Bailey's voice is certainly it. Again, a character is not made memorable because of their skin color, that's not their primary quality. When it comes to Ariel, it's all about who can nail the playful innocence, the beautiful singing voice, and the spirit of her personality - and that is Halle Bailey.