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Halle Bailey Reacts to Racist Backlash Over Her Ariel Casting

In a new interview with Variety, Halle Bailey opened up about her reaction to the racist backlash over her being cast as Disney’s Princess Ariel, and how she coped with receiving hate.

Despite the magnitude of Disney’s global storytelling, in the 99-year history of the institution, there has been only one Black Disney Princess: Princess Tiana, who arrived on our screens in 2009 with the New Orleans-set tale The Princess and the Frog. So when Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel in the upcoming live-action version of The Little Mermaid in 2019, Black women rejoiced across the Internet. However, there were many who couldn’t fathom the idea of a Black woman portraying a fictional mermaid — which resulted in the viral hashtag #NotMyAriel, under which social media users shared racist comments and memes and declared to not support the film.

At the time, Halle claimed that she didn’t “pay attention to the negativity,” instead focusing on gratitude as a way to ignore the backlash. Now, the star is finally speaking out about how she dealt with the online racial attacks. The Ungodly Hour singer told Variety that amidst the trolling, her grandparents offered empathetic words of support, reflecting on their own lived experiences of racism and discrimination.

“It was an inspiring and beautiful thing to hear their words of encouragement, telling me, ‘You don’t understand what this is doing for us, for our community, for all the little Black and brown girls who are going to see themselves in you,’” said Halle. The Grown-ish star also spoke to the importance of media representation for young girls of color, and how seeing a Black, live-action version of Ariel would have impacted her younger self: “What that would have done for me, how that would have changed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything. Things that seem so small to everyone else, it’s so big to us.”

“I want the little girl in me and the little girls just like me who are watching to know that they’re special, and that they should be a princess in every single way,” Halle added. “There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be.” The Little Mermaid director Rob Marshall even defended Halle’s casting, affirming that she was the perfect person for the role despite any of the backlash. “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,” he told Variety.

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