Actress Halle Bailey has posted a heartwarming clip of her being recognized by a young fan while visiting the Walt Disney World Resort, and it demonstrates the true power of representation in children’s media.
2023’s live-action The Little Mermaid will rewrite elements of the 1989 Walt Disney Animation Studios classic, expanding upon Ariel’s storyline and her connection to Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King), plus adding new songs from composer Alan Menken and musical legend Lin-Manual Miranda. In addition, the storyline takes on new significance due to the racial identity of 22-year-old Bailey, an African American singer-songwriter-performer cast in the role of Princess Ariel.
In fact, the Grown-ish star has spoken about the significance of the role to her as a Black woman who grew up idolizing the character on screen. Notably, Bailey confessed during interviews that she broke down crying the first time she saw herself on screen with the red locs and signature mermaid tail and that she has endured the unwarranted backlash from racist audiences in the anti-Black #NotMyAriel movement because the positive outcomes of her performance will have for future generations of young children of color matters more to her.
As reported by TODAY, Bailey told fans:
I know what it would have meant to me as a little girl to have been able to see a black Ariel when I was younger. If I would have seen that, it would have changed my whole outlook on life.
Indeed, numerous academic reports suggest the importance of increased racial diversity in media, particularly family-oriented or all-ages media like Disney’s, within the parameters of healthy child development and a sense of identity.
As media becomes more diversified in general, it’s understandable that the Walt Disney Company has committed to values of equity and inclusion for all Disney fans and employees, despite pushback from those who feel this aligns with an “oppressive,” “woke” agenda. Although director Rob Marshall and original voice actress Jodie Benson have both vocalized support for Bailey’s casting, so-called purists seem relentless in tearing Bailey and her Ariel down.
Fortunately, Bailey has found ways to focus on the positives, such as her recent appearance at Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom Park for its annual Disney Dreamers Academy event. During the opening celebrations for the program, which seeks to broaden “career awareness and create exclusive opportunities for Black students and teens from underrepresented communities,” Bailey appeared alongside other celebrity ambassadors and Princess Tiana herself for a cavalcade down Main Street, U.S.A.
Adorably, a young fan named Mila Rose recognized Bailey from the official trailers, launching herself at the star for a hug as the adults with her explain Ariel is her favorite Princess. Bailey held the girl, spoke to her, and even posed for pictures once Mila finally let go, a truly tangible confirmation that Bailey’s casting, and her influence, both matter more than any negative opinions related to the original film.
The Little Mermaid splashes into theaters on May 26, 2023.