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A Latest ‘Little Mermaid’ Inspires Joy for Young Black Girls: ‘She Looks Like Me’


At first, all you see is the swish of an iridescent tale and a flash of red hair.

She glides gracefully through an underwater world of fish, coral, sea turtles and shipwrecks. The familiar twinkle of a Disney song settles in, and as she swims to the surface light, the princess is finally revealed.

“She’s Black?” asks Ke’Iona Shanks, who turns 8 next week. “Yay!”

Ariel, portrayed in Disney’s previous film as white with fire-engine-red hair and blue eyes, now has red locks and is Black.

Ariel is played by Halle Bailey, one half of the Grammy-nominated R&B sister duo Chloe x Halle. Her role signifies one in all the few times a Disney princess has been played by a Black lead. The response videos capture the moment young Black girls watch the trailer, many of their pajamas, and for the primary time see a Disney princess who looks like them.

“Seeing an actual manifestation of something you’re keen on and are keen about makes that thing more realistic and makes you’re feeling included; that’s my hope for them,” said Sterling Shanks, who recorded his daughters — Ke’Iona, Lai’Anna, 7, and Ea’Iona, 2 — as they watched the trailer. “Seeing Halle Bailey as Ariel makes something they love more attainable and relatable.”

Mr. Shanks said their response brought him to tears.

Mr. Shanks and the ladies talked in regards to the trailer for hours after they watched it on Saturday morning. “I just know from conversations we’ve had with them that in their very own way they want they’d representation within the things they watch and do,” he said. He added, “Lai’Anna said, ‘Did you notice she has braids like we do sometimes?’”

Ms. Bailey was not made available for comment, but on Twitter wrote that she was “in awe” of the overwhelming response to the trailer. The movie is ready to come back out in May.

“I would like the little girl in me and the little girls similar to me who’re watching to know that they’re special, and that they must be a princess in each way,” Ms. Bailey told Variety in August. “There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be. That reassurance was something that I needed.”

The joyful response to the movie was a pointy turnabout from the racist backlash Ms. Bailey faced when the casting for the film was announced in 2019.

In Disney’s nearly 100-year history, there was just one Black Disney princess — Princess Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog,” a 2009 animated feature starring Anika Noni Rose. The singer Brandy starred in a 1997 made-for-TV film version of “Cinderella,” a remake of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Will Fleming, whose wife, Dariana Fleming, filmed their daughter Rylie, 2, watching the trailer, said he had admired the rise of the Bailey sisters, who gained fame after covering popular songs on YouTube. When their version of Beyoncé’s song “Pretty Hurts” went took off on social media a decade ago, the superstar took notice and signed them to her Parkwood Entertainment label. Each sisters appeared on the series “grown-ish.”

For Mr. Fleming and plenty of other parents who remembered Ariel as a household name from childhood, this reinvention is especially meaningful.

“The incontrovertible fact that she rose from social media, posting online, to now being the star of probably the most classic Disney movies and being a Black woman in America — to me there are such a lot of things to drag from that,” Mr. Fleming said. “Unfortunately some folks are taking a look at it like: Well, the unique movie wasn’t a Black woman. I feel we’re missing the purpose. It’s vital, and I’m especially grateful that Disney took the prospect to do that, although they probably felt they were going to get backlash. It’s so essential for each generation coming as much as see this.”

Shannon Lanier said he was “very excited” when he heard Ms. Bailey could be playing Ariel “because she is a girl of color and I’m raising two girls and slightly boy of color, and it’s so essential to have representation in order that they could be pleased with who they’re, and give you the option to have the flexibility to assume that anything is feasible — even whether it is a fairy tale.”

“She’s Black! Oh, my God!” yelled his daughter Madison, 11, wide-eyed and smiling, within the video recorded by Mr. Lanier. “Yes, yes, yes!” her brother Carter, 6, chimed in. “I can’t wait to see this!” added McKenzie, 9.

“It is basically exciting to have a mermaid of color since it inspires probably more people of color to try things,” Madison said in an interview. “I assumed it was really cool because I had never really seen that.”

Carter said he was still waiting for a Black prince.

Nicky Lungaro saw one in all the response videos on TikTok and thought she should try the identical thing along with her daughter Maya Everage. Maya, 9, sat in front of the tv in her pink onesie along with her two braids dangling down her back. When Ariel appeared, she was speechless, looking back to Ms. Lungaro as if she couldn’t imagine her eyes.

“She was incredibly excited to give you the option to see herself on the large screen,” Ms. Lungaro said. “That is well past due. This shouldn’t be that big a deal. This shouldn’t be that momentous an occasion, nevertheless it is, because Black and Indigenous people of color are so underrepresented in media. It’s their time to shine.”

Maya, whose favorite Disney movies include “Pocahontas” and “The Princess and the Frog,” thought the brand new Ariel “was really beautiful and has really long locks.”

“She looks like me,” she added in an interview.

Ms. Lungaro said she was amazed by how “a sweet moment” could have “such an impact.”

“It’s so incredibly beautiful and overwhelming,” she said.

Precious Avery, who filmed her 3-year-old, Emery Garcia, watching the trailer, agreed.

“I just love that she’s in a position to see someone who looks her,” Ms. Avery said. “She loved the movie before, but the glint in her eye that I see when she saw the trailer verified how much representation really matters.”

Ms. Avery is taking Emery to Disney World soon and had considered what might occur in the event that they saw Ariel on the theme park. “Now that is what she thinks Ariel looks like,” she said. When Ms. Avery brought it up, Emery said she didn’t think Ariel could be there anyway — because she lives within the water.

Mr. Shanks can also be headed to Disney World together with his wife, Meredith, and their three daughters. He, too, has thought in regards to the conversation and said he would tell them that the movie was not out yet so Black Ariel would likely not be there. “They love all Disney princesses,” he said. “I feel it helps them to know that they will probably be included in being princesses.”

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