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‘All Because a Little Black Girl was Playing a Role’: Stephanie Mills Compares Her Experience on ‘The Wiz’ to Halle Bailey In ‘The Little Mermaid’ Following Outrage Over Her Lead Role

The dizzying storm of criticism surrounding Halle Bailey’s theatrical debut as “The Little Mermaid” feels all too familiar to Stephanie Mills.

The film was released over Memorial Day weekend, pulling in upwards of $117.5 million at the box office. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the massive remake is on track to have the fifth-biggest opening of all time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Stephanie Mills and Halle Bailey (Photos: Iamstephaniemills/Instagram and Hallebailey/Instagram)

Ahead of its release, Mills shared an open letter of support for the young actress on Instagram. In it, the “Never Knew Love Like This Before” singer reflected on the negative remarks she endured when making her Broadway debut as Dorothy in “The Wiz” in 1974.

The Detroit native portrayed the iconic character, first made famous by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz,” for five years on the coveted stage.

Related: Halle Bailey Remains Positive Amid Racist Backlash of ‘The Little Mermaid’ Casting

“As a young black girl playing the roll as “Dorothy” in 7 time Tony Award winning Broadway play “The Wiz”. I know what this baby @hallebailey #HalleBailey has been dealing with,” began Mills’ post from May 26.

“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 roll, that was once played by a white girl,” she continued. Bailey, 23, has faced months of backlash after being cast as the red-haired mermaid who is white in the original Disney cartoon film.

Mills said that it was sad to see history repeat itself as she praised Bailey for being beautiful, talented, smart and intelligent. “God put you in this place and time,” she wrote. So let your light shine. Hold your head up high, walk in your peace, and celebrate the greatness that you are.”

“They told me I would never make it on Broadway, they told me I couldn’t sing, they told me I was to dark, I have watched and listened to “they” try to tell you why you shouldn’t and couldn’t. Well this weekend your movie comes out,” continued the heartfelt message.

When asked about her response to the racist backlash, Bailey chose instead to focus on the positive impact of her being cast in the lead role. “As a Black person, you just expect it and it’s not really a shock anymore,” she told The Face magazine in February.

“I know people are like, ‘It’s not about race.’ But now that I’m her … People don’t understand that when you’re Black there’s this whole other community. It’s so important for us to see ourselves,” added the “grown-ish” actress.

Early reactions to the film’s trailer spurred tears from excited onlookers in the months leading up to its big release.

In an interview with “Entertainment Tonight,” the talented singer of the Chloe x Halle duo said the entire experience as Ariel has been an emotional ride.

“It’s been such a beautiful moment for me to be able to see the reactions of the babies — it makes me just emotionally overwhelmed, honestly, and I cry as soon as I watch them,” she said.

“I think of the little girl that’s still in me, honestly, and it heals that girl inside of me to watch them feel like they have representation and someone to look to, to know that they deserve to be in those places too. [It’s] so important. It just makes me cry anytime I see any of those videos,” continued Bailey.

It is responses such as that that have made Mills and countless others beam with pride. “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,” Mills concluded her post.

In the comments, fans wrote:

“The movie was beautiful and already breaking records. So she gets the last laugh. @iamstephaniemills and you are a pioneer for people like her.”

“I had no idea you went through that, but you handled it with grace. The Wiz is one of my favorite musicals! Great words of advice for the young Queen Halle who performed so beautifully in The Little Mermaid.”

“It’s a shame that people are more focused on the race of a fictional character vs the positive messages in the story. Congrats to Halle. And thank you for being a pioneer.”

While at the Los Angeles premiere of “The Little Mermaid,” Bailey thanked other actresses for helping to pave the way for her breakout role. They include Brandy, who played Cinderella in the 1997 live-action remake, and Anika Noni Rose, who portrayed Princess Tiana in “The Princess & the Frog” in 2009.

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