Halle Bailey on racist response to Little Mermaid: you expect it, it’s not a shock

As we’ve seen time and time again, racists get super mad when fictional characters in their favorite fictional media are cast as non-white. It happened with Star Wars, Percy Jackson, House of the Dragon, and of course it’s happening with the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey. Because like all those other fantasy properties, a movie about a mermaid is totally grounded in reality and skin color is canon. Anyway, in a recent interview with The Face, Halle noted that she was not surprised at all by the racist response to her casting and the first teaser for the film.

There’s nothing I love more than a remake of a classic, especially when it comes with a modern twist. Such is the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, which stars Halle Bailey as the titular character and is set to premiere this May. But thanks to centuries of Hollywood’s white-washed media, Bailey, a Black woman, wasn’t who the public had in mind to play Ariel. (Apparently, the racial identity of fictional characters will always be a thorn in racist viewers’ sides.) And sadly, Bailey wasn’t surprised by the racist backlash her casting garnered. “As a Black person, you just expect it and it’s not really a shock anymore,” Bailey told The Face in a recent interview.

The first teaser for the film, which was released in September, brought an onslaught of online hate. The hashtag #NotMyAriel began trending on Twitter, with people complaining that Bailey looks “nothing like Ariel.” (I’m pretty sure we all know what that’s code for!) Luckily, there are people in the industry in Bailey’s corner, who have advised her on how to protect herself as a Black celebrity figure… such as Beyoncé herself. ​“When [Chlöe and I] first signed to Parkwood, B was always like, ​‘I never read my comments. Don’t ever read the comments.’” Bailey recounted. “Honestly, when the teaser came out, I was at the D23 Expo [The Ultimate Fan Event] and I was so happy. I didn’t see any of the negativity.”

Helping to drown out the hate was the flood of touching TikToks of young Black girls seeing Bailey in the trailer for the first time, shocked and overjoyed that the iconic mermaid looked like them. “I know people are like, ​‘It’s not about race.’ But now that I’m her… […] People don’t understand that when you’re Black there’s this whole other community. It’s so important for us to see ourselves,” Bailey said. Understandably, the reactions from little girls made Bailey emotional: “I was crying all night for two days, just staring at them in disbelief. It makes me feel more grateful for where I am.”

[From Jezebel]

I mean, she’s completely right. As a Black person you do expect racism and at this point there are also so many other examples of people getting upset about inclusive casting that of course she wasn’t shocked. She’s on the Internet just like everyone else and saw the reactions to Star Wars and stuff. Anyway, I’m glad that for all the hate she’s also getting a lot of love on social media and the rest of the Internet. And I’m sure it’s carrying over into real life like the note from that Delta pilot and other young women she runs into in public. There are a lot of people that suck, but hopefully they’re outnumbered by the people that don’t and are thrilled to see Halle’s casting/movie. And the advice she recounts from Beyonce is good. She shouldn’t read the comments. I don’t even like reading the comments. And Disney has turned off comments on the YouTube post of the teaser.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Photos credit: Ryan Hartford/startraksphoto.com/Cover Images, Getty and via Instagram

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8 Responses to “Halle Bailey on racist response to Little Mermaid: you expect it, it’s not a shock”

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  1. Mia4s says:

    I don’t mean to make light of this but….where do racists find the time? No really. The backlash on this has been all over the place for a movie that looks mediocre as can be. It’s a Disney live action remake, the odds of it being great are close to zero…and this is where people spend their time?! Racists don’t have many hobbies I guess?

    Leave the pretty girl with the great singing voice alone, let the children enjoy, and go outside and touch grass.

    • Slush says:

      All this. Truly. Unless the race of the person is central to the character or a matter of historical accuracy, who cares? (Well, racists care..as we know)

      It’s just an extension of replacement theory for them

      Also hard agree with this movie likely not being good lol none of the remakes have been good for me. Aladdin? Beauty and the Beast? One worse than the next. I didn’t even bother with Lion King. I’m really hoping this is different though!

  2. Cel2495 says:

    Can’t wait to see it! She is so beautiful and has an amazing voice.

  3. lanne says:

    This makes me so sad.

    And before anyone comes here to talk about “we need to create new stories and not put black people in white stories” and “is it okay for a white person to play MLK” or “Mermaids can’t be black because science”, I want to know what is so threatening about a black girl playing a coded-white character in a fictional story? We’re still talking about individual stories. It’s not as if the entire Disney cannon of princesses have been “replaced” by non-white actors.

    It’s not just about “The Little Mermaid,” as some people want to claim. It’s the same reason why Duchess Meghan was bullied, why Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega were bullied. There is a segment of the white population who believe that western culture is the sole realm of white people. Everyone else just “visits” western culture, but that all western culture is the domain of white people. White people need to have discussions about this, I think. What kind of unexamined biases are held over wide swaths of the population at to who the culture “belongs to”? White people often refuse to acknowledge how much of mainstream popular culture originated in the black community (hello rock and roll, country music, many forms of social dancing to name a few). The same people getting upset about the Little Mermaid being black think Elvis Presley invented rock music and Hank Williams invented modern country.

    What I wonder is, what’s really at stake here? Is this backlash another part of the “replacement theory” that white conservatives in America now openly say out loud? What’s the “so much” that depends on one mermaid? (or one Stormtrooper, or even one Duchess?)

  4. Elsa says:

    I am so excited to see the Little Mermaid. There is a video of little girls seeing that Arial is black and their reactions. It is pretty amazing if you can find it.

  5. Melissa says:

    I’m not a huge fan of Little Mermaid. But the teaser of her singing brought tears to my eyes. It was such a beautiful moment. I will definitely be watching and we will see much more of her in the future.

  6. OriginalCee says:

    This is a recurring argument I have with people, including my boyfriend. They’re upset the Little Mermaid is black because the Disney original is a white redhead.
    I just don’t get it. WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM? Like, the real mermaid was GREEN and dies by suicide when the Prince abandons her. She turns into seafoam. Mermaids are FICTIONAL and they should come in al shapes, sizes, colours, etc

    Anyway, I’ll be watching this move on opening night.