While many were quick to celebrate Disney's decision to cast Chloe x Halle singer and Grown-ish actor Halle Bailey as the star of its live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, some had trouble wrapping their minds around the idea that a black woman could portray the fictional cartoon character. And although Disney hasn't weighed in on the matter directly, the Walt Disney Television-owned channel Freeform defended Bailey playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid over the weekend with a note directed towards "the Poor, Unfortunate Souls" who've taken issue with the movie's casting choice.
Reports that Bailey had been cast as Ariel in the upcoming remake of Disney's classic animated movie, The Little Mermaid, drew a mix of reactions from fans of the original film. While many on social media — including celebrities like Zendaya, Mariah Carey, Janelle Monáe, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chrissy Teigen, and Halle Berry have expressed their support and excitement at seeing Bailey bring the popular fictional character to life, some have voiced criticism of the casting choice.
Using the hashtag #NotMyAriel, some Twitter users have claimed that the original Little Mermaid tale, which was written by Denmark's Hans Christian Andersen, specifically notes the character had white skin and blue eyes. Others have argued that a live-action remake of a cartoon should still include "accurate actors."
"Yes. The original author of The Little Mermaid was Danish," Freeform, which is the network home of Grown-ish wrote in an open letter. "Ariel...is a mermaid. She lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can legit swim wherever she wants (even though that often upsets King Triton, absolute zaddy)."
The television network asked folks to assume that, for the sake of argument, the character Ariel is meant to also be Danish. "Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black," Freeform's letter read. "Black Danish people, and this mer-folk, can also *genetically* (!!!) have red hair."
And to those critics who've argued that a life lived under the sea would turn a merperson's skin pale, Freeform noted that Ariel was known for making trips to the surface. "Ariel can sneak up to the surface at any time with her pals Scuttle and the *ahem* Jamaican crab Sebastian (sorry, Flounder!) and keep that bronze base tight," the channel wrote.
Bailey, however, has been hailed by the film's director to be a woman who possesses many of Ariel's key traits. "After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role," Variety reported Rob Marshall, the director of Disney's live-action The Little Mermaid remake, said in a statement.
For those who still can't get behind the idea of a black woman playing the role of Ariel, Freeform had one final message. "Spoiler alert ... the character of Ariel is a work of fiction," the network wrote. "So after all this is said and done, and you still cannot get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly-talented, gorgeous Halle Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that it is because she 'doesn't look like the cartoon one,' oh boy, do I have some news for you...about you."
Many have commended Freeform's response and echoed the network's thoughts on the matter. Bailey landed an incredible role in a beloved Disney film because she, too, is incredible.