Stephanie Mills, who originated the role of Dorothy in Broadway’s The Wiz nearly 50 years ago, says she can relate to Halle Bailey, the star of Disney’s new live-action film The Little Mermaid, and the racist backlash she’s been the target of since casting was announced.
Mills wrote a letter to the “beautiful and talented” Bailey, who plays Ariel in the remake, and shared it on Twitter.
In the letter, “I touch on the similarities I experienced as a young black girl playing Dorothy 50 years ago in #TheWiz on Broadway,” Mills added. “So happy for her. #BlackGirlMagic”
Mills relates that she received the same backlash for taking on the role of Dorothy in the reimagining of Frank L. Baum’s classic book-turned-film. The Wizard of Oz. The 1939 movie adaptation starred Judy Garland as Dorothy. At the time she made her Broadway debut in 1974, Mills was 17. (For her part, Bailey is not much older, at 23.)
“| know what this baby #HalleBailey has been dealing with,” Mills wrote. “I got so much hate mail, I was told Judy Garland ‘is turning over in her grave.’ All because a little black girl was playing a [role] that was once played by a white girl. It’s sad to see the same thing is happening to this beautiful, talented, smart and intelligent actress. Halle, God put you in this place and time….So let your light shine. Hold your head up high, walk in your peace, and celebrate the greatness that you are.”
Mills went on to share more about the naysayers and doubters she faced early in her career.
“They told me I would never make it on Broadway, they told me I couldn’t sing, they told me I was too dark, I have watched and listened to ‘they’ try to tell you [Bailey] why you shouldn’t and couldn’t,” she continued. “Well this weekend your movie comes out. I am so proud of you and how you handled all the naysayers. We have never met, however I have been in your shoes. Baby girl, let them know that this #LittleMermaid is made of teflon tata. Let’s make sure we support The Little Mermaid this weekend.”
She signed the letter, “Love auntie SM.”
The Little Mermaid did, in fact, open this weekend and is headed for an estimated four-day domestic debut of $118 million, the Memorial Day holiday weekend’s fifth-biggest opening of all time, according to studio projections.
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