The disturbing racist reactions to Halle Bailey playing Ariel in Disney’s new live-action The Little Mermaid started after she was cast. It’s, unfortunately, to be expected in our dumpster-fire political landscape, but the trolls were shut down as many more heralded the historic casting of the first Black princess in a Disney live-action movie as a triumph. Now that the film is out, of course, the rumblings have resurfaced—this time about Bailey’s hair.
Of course, Ariel is known for her trademark “candy apple red” hair—but lest we forget, the original Ariel was a cartoon. Bailey is portraying a real-life (as real as one can be) mermaid, so obviously translating that to the screen is going to look different than the animated version. But more importantly, it was paramount to Bailey to maintain her natural locks as a form of representation, and not just wear a cartoonish wig.
Enter Oscar-nominated hairstylist Camille Friend, who created Bailey’s mermaid locks in the new film. Reporter Kirbie Johnson posted a TikTok to defend Bailey’s hair in The Little Mermaid after getting the details from Friend, who previously worked on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. In the video, Johnson explains that Friend used four shades of red to achieve Bailey’s more natural interpretation of Ariel’s classic red. They wove auburn, red orange, and two shades of blonde into Bailey’s locks, according to Johnson.
It’s also worth noting that it was important to Friend and Bailey that the red shade they chose complimented Bailey’s skin tone and eye color. For that reason, a more demure red was chosen over the harsh, unnatural shade (that really doesn’t compliment anyone in the real world) of the cartoon. Of course, the internet is going to internet, and people with nothing better to do are going to vent online about a movie character’s hair color. “Where was all the fuss when cinderellas hair didn’t look like this?” wrote one user on Twitter, who showed Lily James’ medium blonde hair in the live-action film vs. the cartoon yellow in the original animated version.
But ultimately Bailey’s hair is just another one of the transformative points of representation that is part of this new The Little Mermaid.