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Halle Bailey finally breaks silence on Little Mermaid outrage

Disney is making Halle Bailey part of its world, and the singer-turned-actress has finally broken her silence about her role in the upcoming Little Mermaid remake.

When the House of Mouse announced that Bailey, a 19-year-old singer who performs alongside her older sister Chloe in the contemporary R&B duo Chloe x Halle and an actress on Grown-ish, had been cast as Ariel in the live-action reimagining of The Little Mermaid, the internet nearly imploded. Thousands of angry fans took to social media, their proverbial pitchforks held high, to express outrage and disappointment over the casting choice. Some argued that Bailey, who is a black woman, isn't the right person to play Ariel, who is depicted as having white skin and red hair in the 1989 animated original. Others accused Disney executives of being racist, and stated that the company was effectively stealing by casting a person of color as character originally portrayed as white.

Now, Bailey herself has come forward to offer her thoughts on the situation. Ever polite and poised, the young star shared that she's done her best to pay no mind to the vitriol, and is instead focusing on what the role of Ariel really means. 

"I feel like I'm dreaming, and I'm just grateful, and I don't pay attention to the negativity," she told Variety. "I just feel like this role was something bigger than me, and greater, and it's going to be beautiful. I'm just so excited to be a part of it."

Bailey added in a separate conversation as part of the outlet's 2019 Young Hollywood Impact Report that signing on for the Little Mermaid remake was "definitely a little bit nerve-racking" because this is one of the first projects that she's embarking on without her sister. She explained, "I am so used to [us] always going through these challenging moments in our career together, [but] I am beginning to understand that this film is so much bigger than me."

While this is the first time Bailey has directly addressed criticism over her casting in the forthcoming Little Mermaid movie, she has previously spoken about how excited she is to be playing Ariel. Shortly after the world learned that Bailey would be the new Ariel, she said in an interview that she was "in shock" over her role. Bailey gushed, "It's really, really exciting. I just feel really grateful right now. I'm still really in shock. I just found out a day or two ago."

Unfortunately, the enormous waves of backlash haven't settled in the time since news of Bailey's casting went public. Those who disagree with Disney's decision to cast her as Ariel started the Twitter hashtag #NotMyAriel — which is filled with tweets claiming that the studio "messed up," arguing that Disney thinks the original depiction of Ariel isn't "good enough," and stating that "Disney replacing white characters with POC is the corporate version of 'I'm not racist, I have a black friend.'"

Things have gotten so out of hand, in fact, that one fan started an online petition asking people to come together to "save" Ariel and push Disney to "recast or rename Halle Bailey's role." The creator wrote, "We feel the casting is a betrayal of Ariel's original creators, die-hard fans and small children the world over who just want to see the Ariel they already know and love brought to life for the big screen … I feel like society has truly hit a low-point over the Ariel casting, as the sort of online and celebrity ridicule that is currently occurring against the parents and children who simply wish to see Ariel's original image upheld is absolutely deplorable, and part of the purpose of this petition is to call that bullying out." They added that the hope is for Disney to "realise the full impact of their recent casting announcements."

Another petition, created on Change.org, demanded that Disney fire Bailey altogether and select someone else to play Ariel in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. That petition has since been taken down. 

With so much negativity surrounding Bailey's casting, it's easy to believe that the whole world is against her and ready to boycott Disney. But that thankfully isn't the case. For every person hoping Disney will give Bailey the boot, there are as many — if not more — people saying loud and proud how thrilled they are that Bailey is the new Ariel. She even has the support of arguably the most important person: Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in the animated movie, its sequels, and a number of television projects. 

Benson defended Bailey's casting in saying, "I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart, and their spirit, is what really counts … No matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I'm tall or thin, whether I'm overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story. And that's what we want to do, we want to make a connection to the audience. So I know for Disney that they have the heart of storytelling, that's really what they're trying to do. They want to communicate with all of us in the audience so that we can fall in love with the film again."

Director Rob Marshall also voiced his unwavering belief in Bailey when he said she possesses a "rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role." 

With any luck, either the tides will turn and the backlash will die down, or Bailey will prove the haters wrong when she flips her fins in the live-action Little Mermaid remake.