Disney has announced that Ariel will be played by Halle Bailey, one half of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle. The film’s director, Rob Marshall, praised Halle and said that she “possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice” to be the perfect Ariel.
Halle responded to the casting news by sharing a gorgeous photo of herself as animated Ariel along with the caption “Dream come true…”
Halle is a bit of a newcomer to the film world but there’s no reason why she won’t nail the role. Disney cast newcomer Mena Massoud as Aladdin and that’s worked out really well for everyone, plus we already know Halle has a great voice so there’s no worry over whether she can belt out the tunes from Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
But beyond her talents, Halle’s casting is huge because it represents a big leap forward for diversity and representation.
By casting a black person as Ariel, it’s almost certain that Disney will also be looking for black actors to play supporting characters like King Triton (James Earl Jones, anyone?) and all of Ariel’s sisters. It’ll be weird and pretty unsavoury if Ariel is black and the rest of her family is white.
A large diverse cast could also have a trickle down effect on the overall tone of The Little Mermaid. It’s not a stretch to think that the movie could be Disney’s own version of Black Panther in representing and celebrating cultures beyond white people.
Halle’s casting is also something of an indicator of how Disney is tackling the narrative for this new version of The Little Mermaid. As good as the original animated film was, the “girl sacrifices everything to be with her crush” storyline is depressingly awful and doesn’t really set a good example for all the young girls.
Given how Disney have pushed to rewrite women’s roles in all its live-action remakes so far, we can be pretty confident that it will do something to flip The Little Mermaid‘s storyline on its head in a more empowering, inspirational way.
We’ve got a while to wait yet since the film will start production in 2020 and isn’t likely to come out until 2021, but hey, we’ve already waited this long so a couple of extra years is nothing.
With Halle’s casting, the pieces are falling into place for The Little Mermaid to be something important so Disney can take all the time they need if it means making a better film.