When actress and singer Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” fully grown adults acted very, very foolishly. Complaining about a talented Black 19-year-old playing a fictional mermaid? Seriously? What poor, unfortunate souls.
To turn the tides, New York-based blogger Courtney Quinn decided people needed to visibly see what a splash diverse media representation can have. She started ”#colormemermaid,” a social media campaign where people have been posting their most stunning Disney-inspired looks.
Along with the already existing #MyAriel movement, Quinn hopes that the positivity of fans who love Bailey’s Ariel can speak volumes about how important the story has been for children of all backgrounds.
“As someone who loved the water but rarely swam growing up because of an embarrassment for how her hair looked compared to her white friends, I can’t imagine the impact that a Halle’s Ariel will have on the next generation!” she wrote on Instagram.
Media representation can have real effects on how children see themselves. A 2012 study on children’s self-esteem found that girls and Black kids saw themselves negatively after watching TV. White boys, who are well-represented in media, were the only group to report more confidence.
So far, the campaign has gone swimmingly, especially for mothers and daughters who are are looking forward to seeing a Black Disney princess onscreen.
Some kids put their own spin on Ariel cosplays, like the daughter of California blogger @kelseyandco9.
Danielle Hoffman, a mother of two from Rochester, N.Y., decided to contribute a throwback to the project. She posted a photo of her daughter Lexi’s Halloween costume to her account @twins_in_time, in support of Bailey’s new role.
“I am excited for another amazing role model that my daughter and so many other young girls can relate to,” she told HuffPost Canada. “It is so important to teach our children the importance of diversity and to love and respect each other for more than just what someone looks like. I try and teach that to my kids every day.”
Others were overjoyed to see an Ariel that looked like them.
When mother of two Carmen Sognonvi from Brooklyn, N.Y., showed her two kids a photo of Bailey, her daughter Ella remarked, “she looks like Sean [her sister]!”
New York-based Mother Kim Ballesteros joined in on the fun, along with her twins Juliet and Amara.
“I’m a black woman but growing up Ariel was one of my favorite princesses. She looked nothing like me but I still loved her … We aren’t erasing the past. We are adding more for future generations,” she told Romper.
“In this day and age of all of the live action remakes there’s so much opportunity for these movies and characters to evolve, and not just being a carbon copy of the original.”
The Danish fairy tale has been made a live-action rendition before, and Disney even cast a diverse protagonist. Ariel was played by Japanese-American actress Diane Huey for a touring musical production of the Disney film. As one who was also on the receiving end of racially prejudiced comments, Huey has spoken in encouragement of Bailey.
Quinn’s photo, along with a group shot of her project collaborators, inspired New York-based Paula Mugabi’s daughter. In love with the idea of becoming a mermaid, Mugabi joked in a photo caption that her daughter wants to become one too.
She also applauded mainstream culture’s growing appreciation for skill over appearance, saying that now is a time “where talent and charisma for the role counts more than what a fictional character looks like.”
Many echoed similar sentiments, including Florida-based mother Natalie Arroyo. On Instagram, Arroyo wrote that the casting initially “threw her off.” But she quickly embraced Bailey’s singing chops (If you haven’t treated yourself to the sonic wonder that is R&B duo Chloe x Halle, do yourself a favour pronto).
“She definitely fit the fins. It made me realize #myariel can be anyone! What I thought was the only way was just a way. That’s important to show my daughter,” Arroyo wrote.
That change of heart is something that Bailey supporters want to see more of.
A major argument propelled by the anti-crowd has stated that Ariel can’t be Black, as it wouldn’t be in line the original Danish fairy tale. But as Disney Cable network Freeform has reminded people, Danish people can be Black, too, and most importantly, it’s a work of fiction.
I am excited for another amazing role model that my daughter and so many other young girls can relate to.Danielle Hoffman
The sticklers might also be forgetting that the heart of Ariel’s story is a transformative work. The narrative of the one-sided, tragic romance is seen as a queer allegory from author Hans Christian Andersen, and is thought to mirror his same-sex, unrequited attraction to a friend. In Andersen’s original fairy tale, the prince rejects the voiceless mermaid to marry a human woman, leaving the little mermaid so heartbroken she turns into sea foam.
As LitHub author Gabrielle Bellot puts it, “Disney’s animated adaptation was never canonical—and canonicity is not a requirement for a remake. The beauty of Andersen’s story is partly in the story itself and in how it continues to be reimagined today.”
Whatever way Bailey reimagines Ariel, she’s already made a big difference in how mothers will be teaching their daughters self-love.
WATCH: “Little Mermaid” fans support Halle Bailey as Ariel with stunning art. Story continues below.