In an interview with The Face, the 22-year-old actress and singer, who makes up one-half of the sister duo Chloe x Halle, and who stars as Ariel in the remake of the 1989 animated film, talked about the support she's received since taking on the movie's lead role.
"I was crying all night for two days, just staring at them in disbelief," she said, referring to the videos of young Black girls reacting to the first teaser trailer of the upcoming film, in which Bailey is seen as Ariel for the first time. "It just makes me feel more grateful for where I am."
While the responses to the trailer -- which dropped in 2022 at the D23 Expo -- were overwhelmingly positive, it also became the target of backlash, similar to the criticism that came in 2019, when casting for the film was first announced.
Online, the hashtag #NotMyAriel was used in both instances to respond to the news.
Bailey, who recognizes the weight behind her turn as Ariel, shared how she's handled the negativity.
"As a Black person, you just expect it and it's not really a shock anymore," she said. "When [my sister and I] first signed to Parkwood [Entertainment, Beyoncé's record label,] she was always like, 'I never read my comments. Don't ever read the comments.' Honestly, when the tease came out, I was at the D23 Expo [the biggest Disney fan event] and I was so happy. I didn't see any of the negativity."
"I know people are like: 'It's not about race.' But now that I'm her…. People don't understand that when you're Black, there's this whole other community," Bailey added. "It's so important for us to see ourselves."
Bailey, who is also slated to star in the upcoming Blitz Bazawule-directed remake of "The Color Purple," also talked about "pressure" that comes with taking on a remake, but respects the critics who may compare it to the original.
"When you're doing a remake of anything, everyone's gonna be like, 'Well, this isn't how I liked it in the original," she said. "I hope people like my versions [of the characters in 'The Color Purple' and 'The Little Mermaid']. But at the same time, I'll respect it if they don't."
Bailey also shared what being a Disney princess has meant to her and what she learned about herself in the filming process, which was the first time she spent away from her older sister, singer Chloe Bailey.
"What's beautiful about this version of 'The Little Mermaid' is that it's a lot more modern," she said. "When I saw it, when we were younger, she gave up everything for the guy. But I don't think [that] reflects modern women today. So [now] it's more about Ariel finding freedom for herself because of this world that she's obsessed with."
She added that Prince Eric, the man Ariel falls in love with in the film, "is a cherry on top. But it's not all about him."
Bailey, who began rehearsals for "The Little Mermaid" in London in early 2020, described being away from her family during production for the film, which she said was similar to Ariel's journey of learning to "stand" on her own and discovering herself.
"I really got to be alone with myself and say: 'Oh, this is who I am. These are the things I like, these are the things I don't like," she said. "I'm very protective of my family, but when it came to speaking up for myself, it was weird, I used to be paralyzed. On the set of 'Mermaid,' I learned how to say, 'This is what I need,' without feeling bad about it."
"I felt like God was lining up themes in my life with the character," she added. "Ariel has this longing for something more. She doesn't quite know what it is yet, but she has to be brave in order to find it on her own. Being away from everybody for the first time in my life, I really loved those themes of knowing that it's OK to be fearful and pushing through it."
"The Little Mermaid," will be released in theaters May 26, 2023.
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