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Who is the new black mermaid?

The casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel in the upcoming live-action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid has sparked much discussion around diversity and representation in Hollywood. Many are celebrating the decision to cast a young black actress as the iconic redheaded mermaid, while others have expressed disappointment that the appearance of the originally white character was changed. So who exactly is Halle Bailey, and why was she chosen to portray this beloved role?

Who is Halle Bailey?

Halle Bailey is a 19-year-old actress and singer who is best known as half of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle with her sister Chloe Bailey. Halle was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 2000 and displayed an early interest and talent in performing. She and her sister began posting covers of popular songs on YouTube as children, catching the attention of Beyonce who soon signed them to her record label Parkwood Entertainment. Since then, Chloe x Halle have released two studio albums and earned Grammy nominations for their music.

As an actress, Halle made her on-screen debut in 2015 with small roles in TV shows like Austin & Ally and Hulu’s Drunk History. Her big break came in 2018 when she was cast as one of the lead roles in the Freeform series Grown-ish, a spinoff of Black-ish. She plays Sky Forster, an artsy and socially conscious sophomore in college. Halle has received positive reviews for her acting skills and charisma in the role. Her profile continued to rise when she was announced as Ariel in 2019.

Why was Halle Bailey cast as Ariel?

According to director Rob Marshall, Halle Bailey was chosen for the role of Ariel after an extensive search considering singers and actresses of all backgrounds. In the end, Halle stood out for her beautiful singing voice, acting talent, youthful spirit and “incredible range” as a performer. Essentially, the filmmakers believed Halle exhibited all the qualities needed to bring the passionate, fun-loving mermaid to life in a new way while still honoring the spirit of the original animated film.

The decision to cast a black actress as Ariel has been described as a purposeful choice by Disney and the filmmakers to create a more diverse and inclusive retelling of the story. While Ariel’s race was never specified in the 1989 animated film, she has always been depicted with pale skin, red hair and green eyes. Some see the casting of Halle, along with actress Melissa McCarthy as the white crab Ursula, as a positive step towards broader representation in a traditionally white genre of children’s fantasy films.

What has the reaction been to the casting?

The reaction to Halle Bailey’s casting has been decidedly mixed. Many fans of color are thrilled to finally see a version of Ariel that young black girls can relate to. The hashtag #NotMyAriel has gone viral with people celebrating the decision and noting that mermaids can be any race or ethnicity since they are mythical creatures.

However, some fans of the original are not pleased with the change, arguing that Disney should have stuck closer to the iconic appearance of Ariel in the animated film. A “KeepArielWhite” hashtag also emerged on social media from those who think the role should have gone to a white actress. There have been accusations of an agenda and claims that the casting decision was “politically correct.”

Overall though, the backlash seems limited to a vocal minority online. Most Disney fans and the wider public seem excited by Halle Bailey’s casting and the gorgeous teaser trailer demonstrating her singing ability. The 2019 announcement generated a huge amount of positive press for the diversity milestone.

How does Halle feel about playing Ariel?

By all accounts, Halle Bailey could not be more thrilled to take on this iconic role. She told Variety it was always a childhood dream of hers to be a Disney princess, but she never imagined she would be cast as one. Halle grew up loving The Little Mermaid and relating to Ariel’s independence, curiosity and adventurous spirit.

In interviews, Halle has discussed the importance of little black and brown girls being able to see themselves represented in stories like this where race does not matter. She hopes her casting will inspire more diversity in future Disney films. While aware of the backlash, Halle chooses to focus on the positive reactions from fans who are moved to see her cast as Ariel.

When will the live-action Little Mermaid be released?

The Little Mermaid live-action remake was originally slated for a 2023 release date. However due to pandemic-related production delays, Disney has now pushed the release date back to May 26, 2024. That is when audiences will finally get to see Halle Bailey bring the underwater kingdom of Atlantica and beloved mermaid Ariel to life.

Principal photography began in early 2022. Disney has confirmed the film will incorporate the beloved songs from the 1989 animated classic from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, as well as new music from Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda is also producing the film along with Marshall, Marc Platt and John DeLuca.

Who else is starring in the film?

In addition to Halle Bailey as Ariel, the full cast of The Little Mermaid live-action remake includes:

  • Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric
  • Javier Bardem as King Triton
  • Melissa McCarthy as Ursula
  • Daveed Diggs as Sebastian
  • Jacob Tremblay as Flounder
  • Awkwafina in an undisclosed role

The cast brings together an impressive mix of talented performers. Like Halle, many represent a more diverse take on their characters from the 1989 film. Fans are particularly excited to see McCarthy and Awkwafina put their own spin on the villainous Ursula and quirky Scuttle respectively.

How will the live-action remake be different?

While the 1989 animated classic tells the story of Ariel’s dangerous deal with Ursula to become human and marry the prince, Disney has suggested the live-action remake will expand on elements of the story while still retaining the heart of the original. We can likely expect more emphasis on Ariel and her sisters’ relationships, the underwater kingdom of Atlantica, and political tensions between worlds.

Of course, the most notable difference from the original is the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel along with a more diverse cast overall. The remake is shaping up to take a more modern and progressive approach to the classic story. While we can expect the same beloved songs and nostalgic elements, the characters will be reimagined for contemporary audiences.

Visually, advance footage suggests the live-action remake will be grander in scale with incredibly lavish production design bringing the underwater world to life. While incorporating state-of-the-art visual effects, the teaser indicates the film will retain the wonder and fantasy of the animated original rather than appearing too realistic and gritty.

Will any songs from the original be cut?

Disney attracted controversy in 2021 when a report claimed the live-action remake was considering cutting some of the iconic songs like “Under the Sea” and “Part of Your World” to shorten the runtime. This outraged fans who felt the music is an essential part of The Little Mermaid’s appeal.

However, Disney was quick to shoot down this rumor stressing that all the beloved songs will remain and be performed in the remake. Halle Bailey even posted a video of herself singing “Part of Your World” from the movie set when the song was rumored to be cut.

Could there be other casting backlash?

Aside from some claiming Halle Bailey should not play Ariel due to her race, there has been little major backlash against the other casting choices so far. Most fans seem thrilled with the diverse cast, particularly the decision to cast black actors Jonah Hauer-King and Daveed Diggs as traditionally white characters Prince Eric and Sebastian.

There will likely always be a minority online who push back against moves towards broader representation. But overwhelmingly support for Halle and the other castings suggests most Disney fans welcome these reimagined takes on the characters. Any casting backlash against the rest of the performers would likely be isolated incidents that the film can easily move past.

How can the representation go further?

While Disney is breaking new ground by casting a black actress as the traditionally white Ariel, some argue the studio could still push for more diversity in its live-action remakes. For one, the four main heroes of the story – Ariel, Eric, Triton and Sebastian – are now more diverse, while the main villain Ursula remains white. Having women of color voice iconic villains can combat stereotypes.

Likewise, the casting does little to include other underrepresented groups like Asians, indigenous people, trans people or people with disabilities. Creating original live-action films with diverse leads could allow Disney to extend representation beyond remaking classics. Still, The Little Mermaid casting choices remain a praiseworthy step for a major studio slow to shift towards inclusion.


Casting rising star Halle Bailey as Ariel gives Disney’s live-action The Little Mermaid remake the opportunity to redefine a beloved story for contemporary audiences. While some pushback was expected, the overwhelmingly positive reactions suggest most fans are ready to embrace this diverse new vision. Seeing a gifted young black actress bring such an iconic role to life will be a nostalgic yet fresh experience when the film finally reaches screens.

Rather than taking away from the story, this casting adds new layers and allows more young viewers to see themselves reflected on screen. Halle Bailey’s Ariel represents just the beginning, as audiences continue to demand increased representation in all its forms from major studios like Disney.