Film/TV

Freeform Educates: Black People Can Have Red Hair

by Susu Rawwagah

Disney's cable network Freeform has responded to the racist backlash following the Walt Disney Pictures announcement that Grown-ish star and Grammy-nominated musician Halle Bailey will star in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid as the titular character, Ariel.

Though many celebrated and applauded the casting choice as a momentous decision, some critics complained that a Black actress would play the cartoon mermaid, with some even signing and sharing a petition titled #NotMyAriel urging Disney to replace Bailey with an actress that would match the white-skinned, red-headed character depicted in the 1989 animated film.

Defending Bailey, the network took to Instagram and Twitter to pen an open letter to the "Poor, Unfortunate Souls" who found an issue with the casting. The network began by shutting down complaints that a Black Ariel was impossible, humorously pointing out that not only can Danish people be Black, but also that, at the end of the day, Ariel — and the tale itself — is entirely fictional.

"Yes. The original author of The Little Mermaid was Danish. Ariel... is a mermaid," the letter begins. "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)."

"But for the sake of argument, let's say that Ariel, too, is Danish. Danish mermaids can be Black because Danish *people* can be black," the post reads. "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. Black Danish people, and this mer-folk, can also *genetically* (!!!) have red hair. But spoiler alert — bring it back to the top — the character of Ariel is a work of fiction."

But most importantly, Freeform emphasized that Halle Bailey in the role of Ariel was not only plausible, but in fact the perfect choice.

"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."

Amidst it all, Bailey has also received a wave of support from her peers, with Zendaya, Mariah Carey, and Janelle Monáe, among many others, chiming in to congratulate the star.

Rob Marshall, the director of the upcoming film, also praised Bailey, noting that she was cast 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," Marshall said in a statement.

Photo via Getty

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