Halle Bailey has singlehandedly redefined what it means to be—and look like—a princess, an honor the actor does not take lightly. “I remember Ariel being the reason I wanted to swim,” Bailey, who fell in love with the original Little Mermaid when she was five, tells Glamour. “When I saw her, [I was] like, ‘She’s so beautiful; I want to be a mermaid too.’ She didn’t look like me, but I was okay with that because it was what I was used to at the time.”
The next generation doesn’t have to see things that way, though, and videos of young Black girls gleefully reacting to an Ariel with whom they identified have flooded the internet since Bailey was cast. “When I saw those [videos] for the first time, I just cried,” Bailey says. “I was sobbing uncontrollably. The fact that these babies are looking at me and feeling the emotions that they’re feeling is a really humbling, beautiful thing.”
Bailey knows how impactful seeing oneself on screen can be, as she herself was moved by The Princess and the Frog, in which actor and singer Anika Noni Rose plays the titular princess. “I know how much of that movie changed my whole perspective on life,” she says. “Wow, this is possible. Black princesses are possible. We deserve to take up these spaces too.”
While the live-action Mermaid pulls heavily from the original’s plot, there are some key changes, the most apparent of which are visual. Obviously, modifications are required anytime you adapt animation to live-action, but Bailey and the beauty department had to reimagine Ariel as a woman of color too. Bailey and the team opted to keep her hair red—that was essential—but opted for copper locs to make it her own.
“[Ariel still] has red hair, because that’s a very iconic part of her, but I really did admire the fact that because I’m a Black woman and I have locs, [the producers] wanted to incorporate that into Ariel’s look,” Bailey says. Hairstylist Camille Friend was tasked with the transformation that entailed dyeing Bailey’s roots red and wrapping her locs with hair the same shade.