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When Bailey stepped into the role of Ariel, she entered the world of FODs  (First, Only, Different—a phrase coined by Shonda Rhimes). Bailey is quick to give flowers to the FODs who came before her, Brandy Norwood (who played Cinderella in the 1997 Rodgers and Hammerstein TV adaptation) and Anika Noni Rose (the voice of Tiana, Disney’s first Black princess, in The Princess and the Frog).

For a girl who once played with mermaids with her sister, landing the part of Ariel is a dream come true for Bailey, and she hopes her casting is one day seen as standard and not extraordinary. “It’s crazy, because we’re in the year 2023. You would think that these firsts are not firsts anymore,” she says with wistful optimism. “I just hope that for the future it’s not such a shock anymore for a Black woman to be cast as Ariel and for that to just be a normal thing.”

While the character of Ariel means so much to many, it’s beautiful to hear how much the character taught Bailey.

“I’ve been comfortable really just being with somebody all the time. Somebody has always held my hand. I’ve never had to do anything alone. So this was really my first venture into solo adulthood. I had moved to London, and I was in intense rehearsals and stunts and mermaid training, and all of a sudden, I’m going through this not only physical transformation but [also] mental and spiritual transformation of me finding who I am on my own and building that confidence within myself to be able to do these things,” she says. “So I truly feel like Ariel taught me that I’m worthy, and I’m stronger than I thought. We were filming in the middle of the pandemic and in London, and my family couldn’t come visit me. So I was very isolated. Everything was closed down. I would literally go from work to home, and I would sleep on the weekends because I’d be so tired, and then I’d go right back to work. But looking back, I am happy that it was that way. [It] helped me mirror the emotions Ariel was feeling in the film to where she felt trapped and isolated and ready to see a brand-new world where her heart belonged. I felt like there were parallels to both of our lives in the time that I was filming, and I was grateful for that.”

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