Halle Bailey is starring as Ariel in The Little Mermaid, making her the first Black actor to take on the role. This led to backlash against the actor, which she spoke out against on various occasions.
“I landed the role of Ariel. I was happy, shocked, excited, a host of feelings,” she said in front of this year’s Disney Dreamers Academy Class. “What came next was I assumed that everyone else in the world would feel what I was feeling. And arguably, looking back, there were probably a lot more people rooting for me than against me. But the naysayers, those who were negative, were loud, very loud. And so, for the first time in my life, there was negativity targeted deliberately toward me because I looked different than the original character.”
Her receiving mixed reactions has been a testament to changes happening in the film industry when it comes to representation.
“I also love that there’s so much Black diversity on-screen now,” she told Ebony. “There was a time when we’d barely see locs — and now we have a Disney princess with them, which has never happened before.”
Locs have been Bailey’s signature hairstyle since she was a young child. Bringing this part of her identity on screen is a game changer when it comes to different representations of the Black community in cinema.
“It was super important for me to have my natural hair in this film. I was really grateful to Rob Marshall because he wanted to keep my locs. It’s always important to have somebody to cosign. I’ve had my locs since I was 5, so they’re a huge part of who I am,” she said.
“We need to be able to see ourselves; we need to be able to see our hair on big screens like this so that we know that it’s beautiful and more than acceptable,” Bailey added.
The hair and makeup team for The Little Mermaid included women of color, which Bailey says hasn’t been a given in past on-set experiences. Camille Friend, the film’s hairstylist, dyed the actor’s roots and locs in red to help her transform into Ariel, while Kat Ali was in charge of her makeup.
“They’re both women of color, so I felt very comfortable,” Bailey told Glamour. “They know how to take care of me and my hair and makeup. I’ve been on sets before where that’s not the case.”