Amid controversy and confusion, Halle Berry has spoken plainly about where she stands on issues that are tearing a fanbase apart.
Many of the classic adventures that built the Walt Disney company’s reputation as the pre-eminent American animation studio have been adapted to live-action films going back more than a decade. In 2019, it was announced that The Little Mermaid would join the ranks of other legacy properties like Pinnochio and The Jungle Book and become remade with flesh and blood characters.
The Little Mermaid has been somewhat unique in its pre-release reception when compared to its predecessors that made the transition from two to three-dimensional representation. The Lion King, Mulan, and Aladdin are all recent examples of reimagined tales that made this leap however they also enjoyed widespread positive anticipation. The Little Mermaid has endured a very vocal mixed reaction – with some mistakenly directing their ire to actress Halle Berry.
How Has the Little Mermaid Casting Been Controversial?
The Little Mermaid was written in 1836 by the prolific Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and published a year later. It was among a collection of fables bound together in Fairy Tales Told for Children, which included Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Princess and the Pea. While Andersen’s parable has been translated into hundreds of languages and fashioned into various forms of media, the animated Disney film from 1989 is considered to be the story’s modern-day definitive incarnation, supplanting the original source material entirely.
In that movie Ariel, the titular little mermaid, is depicted with flowing red hair, peach skin, and luminous blue eyes. When 22-year-old Halle Bailey was cast in the musical live-action adaptation, whose acting and vocal accomplishments include being a four-time Grammy nominee, the uproar was deafening. The bad faith indignation was reignited when the trailer for the film was released on September 9th and audiences got their first glimpse of Bailey in the role, belting out the signature song beneath the CGI waves and enveloped in shimmering scales below the waist.
The argument has taken on various permutations but at its core is the idea that Hollywood is chasing a false mandate for diversity by painting faces of color over traditionally white roles.
What Was the Halle Berry Mix-Up?
One user on Twitter who joined the chorus of discontent went somewhat far afield of the original objections. Without investing the required amount of attention to the trailer, which clearly featured Halle Bailey, or parsing too finely the sonic variance in “Bailey” versus “Berry,” the user expressed real concern that Halle Berry had been cast in the role.
“Halle Berry is nearly 60 playing the role of a 16-year-old girl,” the person uttered in a tweet that has since been deleted. “This is what happens when you upset a fandom.”
The confusion wasn’t limited to those who were inclined to deride the casting. There were other users on social media who lauded the selection of Halle Berry in the role as well as those who admitted to their initial confusion.
Halle Berry has been a household name for decades and has a name unique enough to be easily referenced without the need for a surname in most instances. Halle Bailey is a young woman who is coming into her fame and the public at large is still acclimating itself to “another” Halle.
What Was Halle Berry’s Response?
Halle Berry could have received the mistaken identity portion of this brewing controversy as a perceived slight. After all, she is a woman who has seemingly defied aging and could have taken the opportunity to remind the world of all the habits that have maintained her throughout the years. Instead, she chose to acknowledge the mistake with grace and humor. In direct response to the now-deleted tweet, Berry expressed her own disbelief with a memorable meme that captures the moment perfectly of a group of women with a dead stare.
This however was only the most recent bit of confusion surrounding the two women and the upcoming film. Late last year Halle Berry responded to a separate individual on Twitter who made the same mistake. In response to a tweet that said “Can’t wait to see you under da sea!” Berry responded with “… wrong Halle lol. I can’t wait to see her too though!” a sentiment she reiterated after the trailer’s release.
What Is The Significance of Halle Berry’s Support of Halle Bailey?
Halle Berry is one of the most powerful women in entertainment, but that level of influence did not come easily. Berry has stated on more than one occasion that she has had to fight for most of the roles she’s claimed throughout her career and her journey behind the camera as a producer and director has been equally hard-won.
Halle Bailey is more unaccustomed to the arrows slung her way through no fault of her own, but by simply inhabiting a space that others feel the freedom to opine on and critique. As a groundbreaking Black woman who has tackled professional and personal obstacles with poise and strength, Berry’s supportive endorsement holds a lot of weight.
Halle Berry often inspires when it comes to responding to private matters in the public eye. Her personal relationships in particular have been fodder for public consumption throughout her career and the director has been candid about the scars such scrutiny has left on her soul. As Halle Bailey is in the process of carving out her own sphere on her own terms, having the metaphorical hand of a living luminary on her shoulder not only elevates Bailey, but the culture as a whole.
Prominent Black people can often be placed in false competitive narratives with one another and play into those paradigms to the detriment of the larger shared community. Sometimes these conflicts spill outward into the social media arena where proxies weigh in, taking on the role of shield and sword for their patron celebrity, but ultimately to the diminishment of collective dignity.
It’s gratifying to see Berry continue to provide an example of strength and humor in lieu of searching out fictitious insults and its something that other successful paragons would do well to adopt.