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H.E.R. will be playing Belle in ABC’s Beauty and the Beast special on Thursday, December 15. I like these specials that they do from time to time. It’s interesting to see who they cast and the updated take on the character. And I imagine they’re really fun for kids to watch, especially around the holidays. H.E.R. (real name Gabriella Wilson) attended a L’Oreal event and spoke to People about her experience playing a Disney princess, her mixed background and how that factored into her take on the character, and the impact her mom has had on her life.
For H.E.R., being cast as Belle in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast was not only historical as she’s the first Black and Filipino person to do so — but it also taught her a thing or two about who she is deep down.
Speaking to PEOPLE in honor of L’Oréal Paris’ Women of Worth event in Los Angeles, the R&B singer opened up about her experience playing the book-loving Disney princess in the ABC special, premiering on Dec. 15.
“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. (whose real name is Gabriella Wilson) 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.”
Transforming into a Belle that feels right is another challenge in itself — but H.E.R.’s vision was clear from the beginning.
“[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. 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.”
She added, “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. 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.”
Meanwhile, as an ambassador for L’Oréal Paris, the singer-songwriter finds it important to be someone who goes “the extra mile” to make a change.
“There’s tons of women that have been in my life, that do that in the simplest ways. But I really want to honor my mom and it’s crazy because I feel like when it comes to your parents, there’s so much of their work that goes unnoticed,” she says of her mother Agnes, who is a nurse.
Yay for mixed Black/Asian representation! I like that they cast Belle’s father as Filipino as a nod to H.E.R.’s heritage. It would have been very easy for them to cast him as Black and no one would ask questions, but this acknowledges H.E.R.’s background and gets people to think a little bit beyond the Black/white binary. I honestly don’t know that I will watch this in its entirety, but I will peep the pics to try and find the nod to her Filipino heritage on her costume. Anyway, like with the new Ariel, it’s nice to take a beloved character and cast it with a new actress that more girls can see themselves in. H.E.R. being Black and Filipino is enough to give a fresh take on the character. And her story about her mother is sweet. It’s nice that she’s acknowledging the impact her mom has had, not only on H.E.R.’s life as a parent, but on others as a person. I definitely think that there is a lot of parents’ work that goes unnoticed because it’s expected or they’re slotted into the box of parent and their other efforts go ignored.
Photos credit: Getty, ROGER WONG/INSTARimages.com/Cover Images, Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/Avalon