In a new interview with Variety, Halle Bailey has opened up about the pressures of playing a Disney princess as a person of color. The singer and actor stars as Ariel in a new version of The Little Mermaid, and has been fending off trolls since her casting was announced in 2019. She’ll be the first Black Disney princess seen in live action on the big screen.
“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,” Bailey tells Variety. “There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be. That reassurance was something that I needed.”
Though the 1989 cartoon was still a childhood favorite of the Grown-ish actor, her more recent experiences with The Little Mermaid have led her to reflect on the importance of media representation.
“What that would have done for me, how that would have changed my confidence, my belief in myself, everything,” Bailey shares. “Things that seem so small to everyone else, it’s so big to us.”
There are currently 12 official Disney princesses, seven of which are white. There was no racial diversity in the line-up until Jasmine arrived in 1992's Aladdin. Tiana became the first Black princess in The Princess And The Frog in 2009, but the animated film has been criticized for putting its heroine in a frog’s body for much of its runtime.
Brandy played Cinderella in a 1997 TV movie that also featured Paolo Montalban as the prince, but this version was somewhat difficult to revisit until it finally arrived on Disney+ in 2021. Auli’i Cravalho, who was also the voice of Moana, appeared as Ariel in The Little Mermaid Live! back in 2019.
The Little Mermaid is set to hit theaters in May 2023.