Who is Halle Bailey?
Halle Bailey is an American musician and actress. She started her career with her sister, Chloe, performing cover songs on YouTube as a duo under the name Chloe x Halle. In July 2019, Disney announced that Halle would star as Ariel in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, prompting some controversy over the casting decision.
Born in Atlanta on March 27, 2000, Halle’s profile rose considerably when the Chloe x Halle cover of Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts" went viral in 2013. To date, the video has more than 17 million views. The sisters released two EPs, including the Grammy-nominated The Kids Are Alright, and they starred in Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade alongside fellow internet sensation Zendaya. In 2018, Chloe x Halle opened for Jay Z and Beyoncé during the U.S. leg of the On the Run II tour.
While developing their audience on YouTube, the sisters appeared in several films and television shows, including Last Holiday and ABC’s Grown-ish, a spinoff of the popular sitcom Black-ish.
However, Halle’s most prominent role by far is her upcoming lead in The Little Mermaid. When Disney announced Halle as Ariel, some fans decried the decision—Halle is African American, while the Ariel of Disney’s 1989 hit is a white woman with red hair and blue eyes. Within hours of the announcement, the hashtag #NotMyAriel was trending on Twitter.
Many fans insisted that their outrage wasn’t racist, but rather a call for an “accurate" portrayal of the beloved character. Some noted that the original Little Mermaid fairytale was written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, implying that a black actor wouldn’t be appropriate for the role.
Some celebrities quickly defended the casting choice, including Jodi Benson, the voice of the Ariel in the original animated classic.
"I think that the most important thing is to tell the story," Benson said during an appearance at pop culture convention Florida Supercon. "And we have, as a family ... raised our children and for ourselves that we don't see anything that's different on the outside. And 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."
Rob Marshall, who will direct the upcoming film, also defended the young actor.
"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," he said.
Freeform, a network owned by Disney, released a tongue-in-cheek statement aimed at the new Ariel’s detractors.
“Ariel...is a mermaid,” the channel wrote on social media. “She lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can legit swim wherever she wants … The character of Ariel is a work of fiction. 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.”
For her part, Halle has stayed mostly quiet about the controversy, although she did post a mockup of herself as the animated Ariel on the Chloe x Halle Instagram page. The caption: “Dream come true.”