Disney's Freeform issued a scathing response to critics of its casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel in the upcoming adaptation of "The Little Mermaid."
When Disney announced Bailey, half of the sister duo Chloe x Halle, had been cast in their live-action remake of the 1989 animated film, the decision was met with an outpouring of support on social media from Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, Janelle Monae, Zendaya and Lin-Manuel Miranda, among many others. The announcement marked the first time Disney has cast a woman of color in the role of a traditionally white princess for one of its live-action remakes.
But it also prompted the hashtag #NotMyAriel. Some social media users objected to a black woman portraying a red-headed underwater princess.
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In a letter addressed to "the Poor, Unfortunate Souls," Freeform said that while the original author of the story was Danish, the film and the character of Ariel are works of fiction.
“Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black,” said the letter, which was posted on the network's social media accounts. “Black Danish people, and this mer-folk, can also *genetically* (!!!) have red hair.”
Bailey, an actress and singer, stars in the series "Grown-ish." She and her sister gained popularity with their YouTube covers and were signed to Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment music label. They appeared in Beyoncé's “Lemonade” film and toured with the singer.
Freeform said Bailey was cast as Ariel because she is "highly talented."
“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," the network said in its open letter.
The live-action production of "The Little Mermaid" will be directed by Rob Marshall and feature the original movie's songs such as "Under the Sea," "Part of Your World" and "Kiss the Girl," as well as music by Alan Menken and Miranda.
Marshall said that 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.”
Bailey expressed her excitement Wednesday after her casting was announced. She shared an image of an animated Ariel of color with the caption "dream come true..." on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Janelle Griffith is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.