BNV BLACK PEARLS: Halle Bailey rises above race-related criticism, shines in ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘The Color Purple’

This has been an incredible year for actress, singer Halle Bailey, and the upsurges continue to flow. NABJ Black News & Views is naming her a Black Pearl because of the positive example she set for Black girls and women this  year, maintaining her grace despite backlash from her groundbreaking role as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” remake.

In May, with Bailey steering the vessel, the greatly anticipated remake of the Disney movie “The Little Mermaid” sailed into theaters with a wave of excited moviegoers, critical praise, unnecessary controversy, and exceptional talent with Bailey at the helm.

Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney's "The Little Mermaid. " Photo credit: Giles Keyte, Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid. ” Photo credit: Giles Keyte, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

And the year is ending with the multitalented entertainer co-starring in a reimagined take on “The Color Purple” produced by Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones and Scott Sanders. Winfrey co-starred in the original 1985 “The Color Purple,” produced by Spielberg and Jones.

Two of the biggest movies of the year feature Bailey, who is 23 and stands at 5 feet two inches tall. 

When it was announced that Bailey was cast as Ariel in the live-action remake of the Disney 1989 animated “The Little Mermaid,” there was criticism that casting a Black American in the role was not faithful to the original character. According to Forbes, there was a racist backlash centered on the #notmyariel social media campaign, “whilst online giant, The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), was awash with negative reviews of ‘The Little Mermaid,’ posted by bots, in a bid to bring down its average score.”

Disney simply and appropriately responded that Ariel “is a mermaid.”

The director, Rob Marshall, said he cried when he first heard Bailey sing “Part of Your World” and told one publication that Bailey “set the bar way too high for any other hopefuls to match.” Marshall also said Bailey “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.”

Audiences young and old, and of all races and ethnicities, were not disappointed. The Little Mermaid grossed more than $118 million during its opening weekend.

“The Color Purple” remake as a musical, which opened in the United States on Christmas, co-stars Bailey as young Nettie. Celie is portrayed by singer Fantasia Barrino and Shug Avery by Taraji P. Henson. The singers Ciara and H.E.R also appear in the film.

Bailey said in one interview that she wanted to play the role of Nettie because she has loved the movie since she was a “little girl” and felt connected to the story because of the “beautiful bond of sisterhood.” She said she could not imagine being separated from her own sister, singer Chloe Bailey.

The two have been performing together since they were children growing up in Atlanta area and their father taught them how to write songs at ages 8 and 10. Halle has been singing since she was 3. The sisters launched a YouTube channel at 11 and 13 and appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in 2012. In May 2015, they signed to Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment.

As Chloe x Halle, they were featured in Beyonce’s visual album “Lemonade,” which premiered on HBO in 2016. The duo was opening act for part of Beyonce’s Formation World Tour in 2016 and released a mixtape “The Two of Us” in 2017.

They also appeared on the television series “Grown’ish” for four seasons, and released their debut studio album, The Kids Are Alright, in 2018. That year they also were the opening act for part of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s On the Run II Tour and were nominated for two Grammy Awards. Their second album, “Ungodly Hour,” was released in 2020 to critical acclaim.

Halle also is ending her pivotal year with a solo album; her single “Angel” was released this fall. She says she had to “learn to believe in myself on my own.”

She’s also confessed to being in love for the first time, and she’s rumored to be pregnant. Yes, 2023 has been a breakout year for Halle Bailey.

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