News flash: Black girls can be Disney princesses. If you didn’t learn that when Halle Bailey’s beautiful performance as Ariel in The Little Mermaid was teased in September, then you’re about to get a refresher from H.E.R. The Oscar-winner portrays the book loving, independent Belle in Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration, premiering Dec. 15 on ABC, before heading to Disney+.
This may be just another Disney TV special to some, but for Black kids it’s another chance to see themselves in a space that hasn’t always included them. The magnitude of her casting is not lost on the Grammy-winner.
“That was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life but also one of the most challenging. It was so rewarding,” H.E.R. told People. “Being a Disney princess is really fun because I felt like I was challenging what it means to be a Disney princess, what a Disney princess looks like, where she comes from, her strength, being vulnerable.”
Becoming Belle gave the “Fight For You” singer a chance to explore a different side to herself. For an artist who enjoys challenging herself, this role offered the opportunity to show the true range of her talent.
“There are so many things that Belle has changed [about] me [in the] best ways—and just embracing what femininity is to me,” she said. “It was nice to discover something within myself I didn’t know that I had, and that’s the Disney princess.”
She didn’t want her Belle to feel like a carbon copy of other portrayals. Belle is an independent woman. She’s not a damsel in distress, so embodying her spirit was important to the “Best Part” artist.
“[My vision] was to of course stay true to the character. But like I said, there’s a strength in her that I wanted to bring out,” H.E.R. said. “I think me being Belle alone and looking the way that I do and coming from a Filipino and Black background was enough because it’s a different face, it’s a different representation for young girls to see.”
It was also important to the Emmy-winner that her Filipino background be central to the role. “They even made my father Filipino and that’s rare. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything on this level, where Filipinos were being recognized and it’s very special,” she said. “I did a really cool nod on my costume to my Filipino heritage, so I’m excited for people to see that. But just me being me alone and being in that position is a lot, so I’m proud of that.”
H.E.R. stars as Belle, with Josh Groban as the Beast and Joshua Henry as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration airing Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. It will be available to stream on Disney+ the following day.