Photo from Disney and @hermusicofficial on Instagram
Embodying the Filipino identity in the international scene has been one of the priorities of H.E.R., including in her portrayal of the Disney Princess Belle in Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration.
The animated and live-action blended special of the classic fairytale premiered on Disney+ yesterday, Jan. 6, in the Philippines.
The acclaimed Fil-Am singer-songwriter, whose real name is Gabriella “Gabi” Sarmiento Wilson, recently shared the story of how she got to imprint the Filipino culture on the iconic character in the anniversary show with Josh Groban. Her blue costume bears the traditional Filipino script Baybayin.
“My Belle costume was so important for me. In the apron, (I want) to show the vulnerability and beginning of Belle — being a Black-Filipino Belle,” H.E.R. told The STAR in a one-on-one interview during her recent exclusive mixer event at the Sheraton Manila Hotel in Pasay.
“I told the costume designer, Marina (Toybina), ‘I really wanna pay tribute to my Filipino culture on my first costume.’ She called her friend, his name is Jessie and he’s Filipino, and he hand-painted the Baybayin on the costume. It was really special.”
Being the first Black-Filipina to play this role, H.E.R. made the meaningful request without expecting that her costume would make the rounds on social media and even capture the attention of other foreign nationalities. Some users inferred that her character’s name was the translation of the Baybayin script that became the border design of the apron.
“I didn’t expect it — to get that much attention. But everybody posted it on TikTok and when people spread that photo (of me wearing the blue dress), there are people, who are not Filipino, who are like ‘What does this (Baybayin script) mean?’ ‘What does it mean to be Filipino?’’ she said in a separate interview at her “homecoming” event.
As her Baybayin hand-painted costume piqued the curiosity of netizens from all over the world, H.E.R. achieved her goal of putting her Filipino heritage into the limelight.
“So, I’m so proud to represent it in that way and to introduce other cultures and other people to our culture. And to really see us. I’m really proud of that,” she added.
Apart from shedding light on her Filipino roots, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter revealed that her nabbing the role of a Disney princess is a childhood dream come true. She further told this paper that channeling her inner child was the key in giving justice to her character.
“Oh, that was a tough one (acting as Belle) ‘cause I was acting, singing, dancing, and remembering so many things. I think I really just wanted her strength to shine through. Belle is actually very strong, very ambitious, and (very) wonderous. I just channeled my inner child,” she explained.
H.E.R. admitted that she met some challenges along the way such as having insufficient time due to her tour. Despite the busy schedule, she still committed to working on both of her projects with her best effort.
“The challenging part was that I didn’t have that much time ‘cause I was on tour all year. I was in Argentina, so there was a lot going on. I didn’t have much time, but it was so much fun. I don’t even see it as a necessarily big challenge,” she shared with The STAR.
The year 2022 was a “magical” one for H.E.R. as she landed some of her biggest projects to date. She also regarded her career growth to be one of the main highlights that capped off her year.
“So much happened (last year). I was on tour with Coldplay, so I was in stadiums all over the world. And that was a crazy experience. Of course, Beauty and the Beast is like the No. 1 highlight ‘cause I got to be a Disney princess,” she said.
“But also, I shot The Color Purple, so you’ll see me in that movie as well (this) year. I think I’m most proud of and happy about just the growth that I’ve experienced (the past) year. I’m really proud of myself. And it takes a lot to be able to say that but you got to remember to give yourself props and pat yourself on the back.”
After her series of big breaks, the 25-year-old Filipino-American said that she rewarded herself by taking a vacation with her family in the Philippines, her mother’s homeland, during the holiday season.
As she continues to embrace her identity as a Black-Filipina, H.E.R. is set to release an album comprised of various collaborations with female artists, as well as including the Philippines in her tour this year.
“I’m working on an album so there’ll be new music. But I’m excited about this particular album because I’m doing a lot of female collaborations, so you’ll see a lot of really amazing artists who are women. I’m definitely going to make sure (that) I have a show in the Philippines (this) year,” she said.