H.E.R. references her Filipino heritage and channels Joan of Arc as she takes on the role of Belle.
The past few weeks have been a major source of pride for Filipino Disney fans, with two Filipina actresses and singers taking on the role of beloved princesses. In the same week that Spanish-Filipino-American theater performer Diane Phelan was announced to play Cinderella on the national tour of Into The Woods this December, the highly-anticipated live production of Beauty and the Beast was finally aired, starring half-Filipino, half-African-American singer Gabriella Wilson.
The 30th-anniversary production aired live on ABC’s cable channel, app, and website on December 15, before going up on Disney Plus on December 16. According to reports, the musical reboot brought in 4.6 million views on its opening nights, while the hashtag #BeautyAndTheBeast30th began trending on Twitter.
Wilson, known professionally as H.E.R., has been making waves in recent months ever since the announcement came that she would be taking on the classic Disney character. The Grammy and Academy-Award-winning singer is no stranger to the stage, having just ended a year-long tour right before starting work on the musical. Despite that, Wilson came in full force, noting in interviews that she even managed to contribute to the musical arrangements of the production.
Alongside the young singer was a star-studded cast. Filipino actor Jon Jon Briones came on as Belle’s father Maurice, while the Beast was played by Josh Groban. Shania Twain came on as Mrs. Potts, alongside Martin Short as Lumier, and Rita Moreno as the Narrator.
Behind The Dresses
Of course, what’s a Disney princess without her fairytale dresses? Fans eagerly awaited the reveal of Wilson’s costumes, and when the time came, they were not disappointed. Filipinos all around the world took to the internet to express their excitement at seeing Baybayin, an ancient Filipino script, on Belle’s apron.
According to Toybina, the addition of Baybayin script to Belle’s apron was Wilson’s own heartwarming request, as a tribute to her Filipino roots.
Belle’s famous yellow dress, on the other hand, included an armor-like bodice that was an homage to Joan of Arc, and a full skirt with layers of sunburst pleats to evoke the petals of a rose. These elements were chosen both as a nod to the “classic princess moment,” and a way to inspire the next generation of women.
In a modern twist to the show, during the performance of the song “Beauty and the Beast,” Wilson actually steps off stage for a moment and reemerges without her large over-skirt, wearing her signature glasses, and playing a clear electric guitar painted with the image of a rose. Her Joan of Arc bodice translates seamlessly between the genres.
In a making-of interview for ABC, Wilson discussed her goals in playing the beloved character.
“There’s a strength in Belle, and you see it in the movie, but I think I’m really trying to bring that out and show women they can be anything they want to be,” she says. “Of course, no one has ever seen a black and Filipino Belle, so it’s really cool that young Filipino-Black girls get to see a Disney Princess that looks like them.”See our favorite looks from Belle in Beauty And The Beast: