Halle Bailey is ready to dive right into our lives as she takes on her biggest role yet.
The year 2023 promises to be a behemoth for Halle Bailey. The younger half of musical duo Chlöe x Halle, and recently a recurring player on ABC’s Grown-ish, Bailey will not only be starring in the live-action version of The Little Mermaid (which hits theaters May 26) but plays young Nettie in the musical film version of The Color Purple, coming to theaters in December.
The 22-year-old is undoubtedly about to make big waves. And working on projects with some of the biggest names in show business—Lin-Manuel Miranda, Oprah Winfrey and Melissa McCarthy, to name a few—bodes well for that to happen.
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"A LOT OF TIMES, I HAVE TO PINCH MYSELF AND BE LIKE, ‘IS THIS REAL LIFE?’” –HALLE BAILEY
The self-described “sunshine girl” is soft-spoken. Deliberate. God fearing. Dedicated to her family. Dare we say wholesome? And yet, we know there’s always more beyond the surface. As with her mentor, Beyoncé, one gets the sense that while sugar and spice are cute and present, they aren’t always the total story. And after speaking to Miss Halle, you sense that there’s grit, determination and strength up in the mix, too.
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Apparently, she needed to pull on all of that when the trailer for The Little Mermaid dropped, flooding social media with reams of Black women and girls crying over the ginger dreadlocked, brown-skinned representation of an iconic Disney princess. It also released all the race trolls from behind their screens.
“Seeing the world’s reaction to it was definitely a shock,” Bailey admits, “but seeing all the babies’ reactions, all the brown and Black young girls, really tore me up emotionally.”
She adds, “It’s honestly been such a crazy ride, and I genuinely feel shocked and honored and grateful to be in this position. A lot of times, I have to pinch myself and be like, is this real life?”
This connection led to Bailey brainstorming ways she can bring some of the Black mermaids she’s been introduced to a possible project, and to one day pour into young Black girls folks as she has been poured into.
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Bailey says she’s always held the role of Ariel, the mermaid princess who goes on many adventures to find herself, close to her heart:.
“I feel like I learned so much through her. I auditioned when I was 18, got the role when I was 19, and I turn 23 this year. So I genuinely feel like [Ariel’s] helped me grow up.”
She filmed for almost a year at London’s famed Pinewood Studios, noting that there were grueling and emotionally taxing moments. Some days she was in the water for 13 hours or on a harness for hours on end. “I pushed myself as far as I’ve ever pushed myself in life,” she recounts. “And I feel like the message from her was to know that you’ve always had it in you.”
The first time Bailey ever watched The Little Mermaid was around age five. Ariel was her absolute favorite princess. And since its initial release in 1989, Disney has weathered persistent criticism about the movie’s sexism. Bailey promises that her Ariel is more nuanced.
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“I’m really excited for my version of the film because we’ve definitely changed that perspective of just her wanting to leave the ocean for a boy,” she says. “It’s way bigger than that. It’s about herself, her purpose, her freedom, her life and what she wants.
“As women we are amazing, we are independent, we are modern, we are everything and above,” she continues. “And I’m glad that Disney is updating some of those themes.”
The Color Purple, adapted from Alice Walker’s sometimes harrowing 1982 novel, is also about female agency, but the circumstances and characters are not “under the sea” but based in early 20th century rural Georgia, which was as far from The Little Mermaid as you could get. Bailey says she was loving that too.
When I have something to say, I feel like it’s become a lot easier for me [to share my opinions].” –HALLE BAILEY
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“I felt stripped of everything fancy. No glam. I would go on set, no makeup, no lashes and just kinda put my bare feet in the earth…just stripping everything away, compared to the [Little Mermaid].”
On The Color Purple set, she’s joined by some sanging folks (this is the musical version from Broadway, after all) including Taraji P. Henson, H.E.R., Ciara, Fantasia, Danielle Brooks and Aunjanue Ellis. She is extremely close to her sister, Chlöe, and again, having the mentor of all mentors, she’s used to being surrounded by talented women. She said it was the unbreakable bond between the sisters that drew her into the classic story.
“My sister Chlöe, she’s my angel, she’s my world. She’s my hero, my big sister, she’s my inspiration,” she explains. “So taking on this role, I was really excited to do it because I got to play the little sister and build off this relationship of two people loving each other.”
“AS WOMEN WE ARE AMAZING, INDEPENDENT, MODERN...WE ARE EVERYTHING AND ABOVE.” –HALLE BAILEY
So, she’s sweet, she has spice, she’s talented and quite humble. She’s also extremely mature for a 22-year-old, and given her career and strong foundation, this makes sense. But Bailey is also a very, very young lady who is learning as she grows into her personhood, to “stand on her voice a bit more.”
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“I used to be a lot more timid in telling people how I feel with my opinion on something, whether it’s a script or a song, and kind of inserting myself into a conversation,” she says. “Now, When I have something to say, I feel like it’s become a lot easier for me.”
Talking this way, you know Baileys an old soul (admitting that she used to belt out Billie Holiday songs when she was eight), who is clearly not your average young adult. But despite her unusual life, this ray of sunlight has learned to prioritize herself, stay grounded through her faith and lean on the amazing women in her life. And with this winning combination, Halle Bailey will rule. Under the sea, or otherwise.
Photography: Raven B. Varona
Photography Assistant: Will Azcona
Styling: Nichole Goodman
Writer: Angela Bronner Helm
Hair: Fesa Nu
Makeup: Christiana Cassell
Videography: Sade Ndya
Photography by: Photographed by Raven B. Varona; Styled by Nichole Goodman