Disney Spent $150,000 Transforming Halle Bailey Into Ariel

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Halle Bailey as Ariel talking to Scuttle (Awkwafina) in live-action 'The Little Mermaid'

Credit: Disney

It’s official: The Little Mermaid (2023) is swimming towards one of 2023’s biggest opening weekends.

Now that the newly imagined version of Ariel’s undersea tale is out in the world, the team behind the marine magic is finally sharing some of the movie’s secrets.

Halle Bailey playing Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid' (2023)
Credit: Disney

Like the original The Little Mermaid (1989), this year’s live-action remake follows Ariel as she makes a deal with the sea witch Ursula to experience life in the human world. While reviews have been mixed, if there’s one thing critics can agree is that Halle Bailey was “born to play Ariel,” combining her effortless charm and incredible voice to bring the mermaid to life.

Bailey was first cast in the role in 2019. The announcement triggered backlash among a specific demographic, with some denouncing the decision to choose a Black actress for Ariel, who was portrayed as white in Disney’s original animated version.

Animated Ariel next to live-action Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
Credit: Disney

However, Bailey’s casting received strong support from audiences and fellow filmmakers who stressed the need for greater diversity in Hollywood, with Bailey herself commenting: “People don’t understand that when you’re Black there’s this whole other community… It’s so important for us to see ourselves.”

When it came to setting into the role, Bailey was keen to stay true to her Black heritage. A recent report from Variety explains that that meant finding a way for her to maintain her long locs as Ariel rather than wearing a wig.

Ariel stares straight ahead
Credit: Disney

To make this happen, Disney recruited Camille Friend – an Oscar-nominated hair department head whose credits include Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022). She previously added color to actress Lupita Nyong’o’s hair and was the obvious go-to for making Ariel’s famous red hair a reality.

Determined not to cut Bailey’s natural hair, Friend spent an estimated $150,000 purchasing, dying, and fusing the 30-inch long hair with Keratin tips. The process had to be repeated on multiple occasions – as did the 12 to 14-hour routine of wrapping it around Bailey’s locs.

halle bailey and jonah hauer-king as ariel and eric in the little mermaid
Credit: Disney

Another problem faced by the team? Water. “Locs don’t float,” said Friend. To solve the issue, she added loose pieces of hair. They also needed a little movie magic to make Ariel’s iconic hair flip when emerging from the ocean a reality. “Halle did the hair flip, and it was helped with CGI,” she said.

Basically, it was a long – and expensive – process. Considering the mesmerizing final result, however, we’re happy to say it was worth it.

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