A few days ago came the announcement that rising young sinnger and actress Halle Bailey was cast in the role of Ariel for Disney’s live-action remake of their 1989 animated classic “The Little Mermaid”.
Par for the course with many casting announcements these days, the actress’ hire was met with both praise and backlash. As half of Chloe X Halle, she has toured with Beyonce, been nominated for two Grammy Awards, and has been a series regular in the Freeform sitcom “Grown-ish”. Sounds qualified enough right?
Not so according to some of the backlash where criticisms have been about her race and lack of red hair not being accurate to her character. What makes the racism of the ‘#NotMyAriel’ tag so blatant here is that we’re talking about a fictional literary character of a whole other species, and a previous interpretation that boasts a shade of red hair color that simply doesn’t exist in nature.
Now, original Ariel voice-actress Jodi Benson has come out in defense of Bailey’s casting. Appearing at the Florida Supercon convention (via Comicbook.com), she says:
“The most important thing is to tell the story. And we have, as a family, we have raised our children, and for ourselves, that we don’t see anything that’s different on the outside. I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart, and their spirit, is what really counts.
And the outside package – cause let’s face it, I’m really, really old – and so when I’m singing ‘Part of Your World,’ if you were to judge me on the way that I look on the outside, it might change the way that you interpret the song. But if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel.
We need to be storytellers. And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story. And that’s what we want to do, we want to make a connection to the audience. So I know for Disney that they have the heart of storytelling, that’s really what they’re trying to do. They want to communicate with all of us in the audience so that we can fall in love with the film again.”
Benson voiced Ariel for the original 1989 animated movie, two direct-to-video sequels, several specials, multiple video games, and a short-lived 1990s TV series. She isn’t the only one stepping up for Bailey though, the Freeform network has also spoken up with a letter on Instagram to the “poor, unfortunate souls” that have a problem with the casting:
“Yes. The original author of ‘The Little Mermaid’ was Danish. Ariel…is a mermaid. She lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can legit swim wherever she wants (even though that often upsets King Triton, absolute zaddy). But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Ariel, too, is Danish.
Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black. Ariel can sneak up to the surface at any time with her pals Scuttle and the *ahem* Jamaican crab Sebastian (sorry, Flounder!) and keep that bronze base tight. Black Danish people, and this mer-folk, can also *genetically* (!!!) have red hair.
But spoiler alert – bring it back to the top – the character of Ariel is a work of fiction. So after all this is said and done, and you still cannot get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly-talented, gorgeous Halle Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that it is because she ‘doesn’t look like the cartoon one,’ oh boy, do I have some news for you…about you.”
Adding to the fray, but more tongue in cheek is “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Terry Crews who is campaigning to wear the crown of Ariel’s dad King Triton in the upcoming film, as you can see below.
— terry crews (@terrycrews) July 6, 2019
The film also stars Awkwafina as Scuttle, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, and the decidedly non-purple skinned Melissa McCarthy as the Sea Witch Ursula.