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Special screening of 'The Little Mermaid' inspires young Arkansans

Business owners Whitney Owens and Tiffany O’Guinn are covering the cost for around 150 children and their families to see 'The Little Mermaid' on Friday night.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The opening day for the highly-anticipated live-action film 'The Little Mermaid' is finally here!

On Friday, May 26, children and their families will fill theaters across the nation to get a glimpse of Disney’s second Black princess, Halle Bailey who plays Ariel.

To add to the excitement of the film's release, two Arkansas business owners decided to organize a special free screening for the community.

Whitney Owens of Whitney Owens-State Farm and Tiffany M. O’Guinn, Managing Partner for Mays, Byrd & O'Guinn (MBO) will be covering the cost for around 150 children and their families to see 'The Little Mermaid' on Friday at a Little Rock Cinemark Movie Theatre.

Although it's an exciting moment for them to present this opportunity, one young lady who will be in attendance said that it feels unbelievable.

13-year-old Rylee Grant is a student at Westwind School for Performing Arts. Grant studies acting and singing and has already fallen in love with being in the spotlight.

“I've always had this passion for being on stage, and smiling and being someone who I'm not and just betraying that character," Grant said. 

She’ll now get the opportunity to see for herself how far her aspirations can take her when she watches the new live-action film.

“Knowing that I can watch a Black woman be a character, be a princess in water. It's just so cool," Grant described.

Owens and O’Guinn have joined a national initiative called #WinWithBlackWomen to present the screening for free to children and their families. 

“We chose organizations that we thought were in the arts since this is a movie. A lot of kids probably want to go on Broadway, they probably want to be you know, in the movie realm," O'Guinn said. 

#WinWithBlackWomen has presented a challenge accepted by the pair that aims to provide young girls the opportunity to experience the portrayal of Black women and girls in movies.

“Just to have the opportunity to bless any young girl. No matter what color she is, no matter what color shade she comes from, no matter what neighborhood she grew up in, this is an opportunity for all of us to come together and say, 'let's see this movie'," O'Guinn added. 

It’s an opportunity that even lead actress, Halle Bailey hasn't taken lightly, especially after she was the target of racial backlash once her historic casting was announced.

"I just focus on the positivity and the beautiful reactions from these babies and realize the greater meaning and purpose in all of this is for them to be able to see themselves and know that they're worthy," Bailey said. 

Owens recalled her time as a dancer under C. Michael Tidwell with Centers for DansArts Inc. and seeing an Alvin Ailey show with Black ballerinas who looked like her for the first time and how special the moment was. 

"The first of many things that we can do to bring initiatives to whatever it may be, whether it's young boys, young girls, you know, of all creeds and color, just exposure," Owens said. "Exposure is necessary, it's important for everybody to see someone that looks like them doing something that they want to do.”

A world that once almost felt unreachable for many, is now becoming a part of theirs.

“I want to be an actress when I grow up," Grant said. "Knowing that someone that looks like me can do stuff that I want to do is just kind of unbelievable, because I mean, you never really see people like me doing big things like this.”

Owens and O'Guinn said that this is not a time to be divisive. They are hoping everyone comes out and enjoys it from young boys and their dads to those of every race and age. 

However, they added this is especially a moment they really want little girls that look like them to be able to witness, smile, and be happy about.

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