Halle Bailey is a welcome splash of diversity in the live-action reimagining of ‘The Little Mermaid’

Cast member Halle Bailey attends the premiere of the film "The Little Mermaid" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 8, 2023. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Cast member Halle Bailey attends the premiere of the film "The Little Mermaid" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 8, 2023. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Published May 28, 2023


After a symphony of pleas for diversity over the years, Hollywood has started heeding the call.

It’s already been manifested in numerous TV shows of late, including Shonda Rhimes’ hit Netflix series, “Bridgerton”, where, in season 2, she introduced the Sharma sisters, played by Simone Ashley (Kate) and Charithra Chandran (Edwina).

We’ve seen it also come to fruition in “Pose”, “This is Us” and the award-winning film “Everything Everywhere All At Once”.

With representation as the new currency in filmmaking, Disney has come to the party by casting Halle Bailey in the live-action reimagining of “The Little Mermaid”.

Of course, the news didn’t sit well with all the fans of the film and Bailey, in the initial stages of the announcement, weathered a tidal wave of criticism.

The clouds of discontent have since dissipated and the young singer-turned-actress is drowning in compliments over her stellar performance as mermaid princess Ariel.

The film hit the big screens on Friday and those who have seen it, irrespective of age or colour, have been blown away by the movie and Bailey as the protagonist.

At a recent press junket, Bailey shed light on the impact the character has had on her as well.

The sweet-natured 23-year-old admitted that she put in the work for this career-changing role.

She said: “There were a lot of different ways that I had to learn how to get into the world of Ariel. I was so excited to be a part of this reimagining of the film because this was an iconic film that I have known and loved since I was a little girl so I was most certainly up for the challenge.

“But when I found out I got the role, I was excited and then like OMG, I have to do the job. I have to do my best and I did feel that overwhelming pressure because of how big this film has been in our hearts since we were children.

“I think I really just tried to make her my own in a way but also keep all the elements that we loved about her like her passion, her headstrong nature, her drive, her ability to not take no for an answer and to go after what she wants in life.

(L-R): Scuttle (voiced by Awkwafina), Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay), and Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“And as far as physically preparing to be a mermaid, I went through a lot of stunt training as well as mermaid school, basically, where I got to learn with these beautifully synchronized swimmers who helped me lock in that gracefulness that Ariel’s swim has.

“And then a lot of work on wires and being in the air and simulating that swimming motion, which was just such a cool experience for me as I’ve never done that before.”

With Ariel, there are traits that make her relatable, especially to her malleable young fans.

She added: “I think all of us have the feeling of sometimes feeling like a big outcast or feeling like you are not in the right place or wanting something greater for yourself or just to be free in general.

“I think all of these feelings of desperation and just wanting something better for your future is all of the things that Ariel had.

“She taught me a lot about myself. I auditioned for this film when I was 18. I’m 23 now and the film is finally coming out. We wrapped when I was 21. I feel like it was a college experience for me almost, where she was kind of whispering to me to speak up for myself.”

Bailey says, in learning to stand in her power as a young woman, she, ultimately, came out of the experience as a better person.

And with all that noise around colour, she had to learn fast when it came to dealing with certain situations.

She admitted: “I think plenty of different races have had that opportunity to see themselves as princesses. It is just a beautiful change and I’m grateful to be taking on this role.

“As far as the controversy goes, no, I didn’t let it affect me. I just see so much more positivity and love than hate.”

And she is all for the diversity bandwagon.

“I think diversity is so important because we deserve to see ourselves in worlds like this,” she explained. “ I am so proud to be a black woman and I am so proud to be able to represent my community.

“Brown people never had a mermaid that looked like them. They were not able to see themselves in the colour of a princess.

“And now, everyone can have that. It is so moving to me, to the little girl inside of me, to be able to play this. I remember how impactful Princess Tiana was to me. That movie changed my life and how I saw myself and the world and my confidence and self-worth.

FILE PHOTO: Cast member Halle Bailey attends the premiere of the film "The Little Mermaid" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 8, 2023. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

“It is so important for us to have characters like these to look up to and I’m grateful to be carrying on this legacy in a way.”

Prior to being cast in the musical fantasy, Bailey was one part of a duo, Chloe x Halle, with her older sister. Interestingly, it was during one of their performances that she was scouted.

She shares the screen with Jonah Hauer-King (Eric, a human prince), Melissa McCarthy (Ursula, the treacherous sea witch with octopus tentacles), Jessica Alexander (Vanessa, Ursula's human alter ego), Javier Bardem (King Triton), Noma Dumezweni (Queen Selina, Eric's adoptive mother), Daveed Diggs (as loyal crab Sebastian) and Awkwafina (as a dimwitted Scuttle).

To be in the company of such a seasoned cast is something Bailey didn’t take for granted.

She shared: “I was so honoured to work with really just an all-star cast of beautiful souls, talented individuals.

“I have been a fan for so long of Melissa McCarthy and Javier Bardem and Awkwafina and Daveed. I’m used to touring and performing and life on the road. But not a big screen.

“I think that going into this, I watched women like Melissa McCarthy just be so amazing on set and be so funny and so kind. She knows who she is and she is so powerful.

“She stands in her power and she speaks up for herself. I really just watched these amazing pioneers who have been working longer than me and have been in the space longer than me.

“I was just trying to be a sponge and learn from them in any way I can.”

On what she hopes audiences - including detractors - will take away from the movie, she said: “I hope the biggest takeaway is people are inspired to lead with their own lives and their passions and desires. To not be afraid.

“We watch Ariel go through so much and sacrifice so much for her dreams and what she knows is greater for herself.

“And even though she experiences trials and tribulations, she ultimately is happier in the end because she risked it. Sometimes that is what you have to do when you want to reach your goals and dreams and I think it is a powerful lesson that I’m learning in my life.”

As for what’s next, Bailey admitted to being bitten by the acting bug, so many roles in this new playground are first prize for her.

She added: "I have always loved the combination of singing and acting, two things that I love, so more things whether it is a musical or live reimagining of movies. I would love to do more.”

∎ “The Little Mermaid” is currently showing at cinemas nationwide.