Halle Bailey on Ignoring 'The Little Mermaid' Criticism, Her Work as Disney Dreamers Academy Ambassador, and Filming the Reimagined 'The Color Purple'

Halle Bailey is taking her work with the Walt Disney Company far beyond her role as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. This week, she was announced as the Ambassador for the 2023 Disney Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA). The five-time Grammy-nominated singer is on site for the Thursday – Sunday event participating in the annual mentoring program by Walt Disney World Resort that brings 100 students from around the country for an immersive career-inspiring weekend at The Most Magical Place on Earth. Disney Dreamers are introduced to interactive opportunities, which include sessions teaching valuable life tools, leadership skills, effective communication techniques, and networking strategies. Students also partake in in-depth workshops associated with their specific disciplines aligned with their dreams. The workshops are designed to introduce the Disney Dreamers to diverse career paths within the fields of business, entertainment, and sciences, as well as potential career opportunities within The Walt Disney Company.

Part of Bailey's work includes her sharing personal insights with the students, drawing from her own unique experiences as a singer, actress, producer, and young starlet who has grown up in front of the world's eyes. PopCulture.com was among the list of media invitees for DDA 2023. We spoke with Hailey on her work with the program, rising above intense scrutiny amid backlash for her role as Ariel, and her role in the upcoming reimagined version of The Color Purple. The Chloe x Halle performer also spoke with media representatives about the importance of diversity and inclusion and what this moment as a Disney princess means to her. 

PC: So you began your work with Disney Dreamers as a mentor last year in 2022. How did the transition to Ambassador come about?

Wow. Honestly, I'm not sure. I just got the call, and I'm so grateful to now be an Ambassador for Disney Dreamers Academy. These students are so inspiring to me, always have been. And whenever I leave here, I just feel so refreshed and overjoyed and ready to accomplish more goals.

PC: Obviously, we're excited to see you as Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and you handled that backlash with such grace. What kept you focused during that time? And outside of seeing Brandy as Cinderella with the natural hair and everything, we haven't really seen a loc'd beautiful goddess like yourself playing an iconic Disney character. So what does that representation mean to you, at this moment?

It means everything to me to be able to play such an immense character that we've all known and loved for so long, but also make her a new version, a Black mermaid version. It means the world to me and the little girl within me.

I'm just so happy to see all the babies' reactions. It makes me happy. All the negativity, I don't really see, I don't pay attention to. My family and my friends keep me centered, and I'm just grateful to be in this position.

PC:  Now you're also starring in The Color Purple. How was that, participating in the reimagined version of that film?

The Color Purple is amazing. That's another beautiful movie that I feel so honored to be a part of, just because of the history, especially in the Black community, that that movie has been for us. So I'm just grateful.

Media question: You're one of maybe 15 people in the entire world that can say they're a Disney princess. How does that feel? And have you had that moment yet of, "I've actually made it. I've become one of the highest Dreamers you can get"?

It's actually very surreal at times. I feel like it hits me in moments that I'm Ariel today. Then it's like, "Oh, that's not real. That's just a dream." So it's very interesting and funny to realize this real life. I'm so grateful to just be here and be a part of it, and see beautiful faces like these today. This is what builds me up, really.

Media question: As a Black woman and as a person of color, what is the importance of doing this, and coming to Disney, and being a part of the Academy?

Yes, as a Black woman doing this role, taking on this role is such an important thing for us to do. I feel like representation is so important for us to be able to see ourselves. It changes the way we feel about our self-worth, our confidence, our courage.

Just even the fact that when I was a little girl, and I had Tiana, what she did for me is so amazing. So I'm just grateful to be here. And especially with the Disney Dreamers today, who are phenomenal.

Media question: Of course. How does it feel knowing that young Black women who look like you are going to be inspired by your portrayal of Ariel?

It feels amazing to hear that they're going to be inspired. It's a little bit surreal. I'm like, "Me? Little old me?" But I'm grateful, and I just thank God. It's a really humbling experience, and I just want to continue to make people proud.