Singer/actor Halle Bailey cast as Ariel in Disney’s live-action remake of ‘The Little Mermaid’

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Halle Bailey

Halle Bailey is going under the sea, and not surprisingly, not everyone is happy about it.

Bailey, who is best known as half of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle with her sister Chloe Bailey, has been cast as Ariel in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Although director Rob Marshall has spent the last few months meeting with potential stars for the project, Variety reports that Bailey has been a clear frontrunner from the start.

“After an extensive search, it was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance — plus a glorious singing voice — all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role,” Marshall said in a statement.

Also an actor on the Freeform series “Grown-ish,” Bailey is joining a cast that includes Jacob Tremblay as Ariel’s fish friend Flounder and Awkwafina as the odd-duck seagull Scuttle, while Melissa McCarthy is in talks to play the sinister sea witch Ursula, according to Variety.

Disney’s new version of “The Little Mermaid,” which the Mouse House loosely adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, will incorporate original songs from the 1989 animated smash, along with new tunes from original composer Alan Menken with lyrics by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda is also producing the film along with Marshall, Marc Platt and John DeLuca.

David Magee wrote the script with Jane Goldman writing a previous draft. Jessica Virtue and Allison Erlikhman are overseeing for the studio.

The original 1989 animated hit, which is credited in ushering in a renaissance for Disney’s animation studio, followed the mermaid princess Ariel as she fell in love with a human prince and searched for ways to join him on land. Menken earned an Academy Award for writing the film’s original music, including the songs “Under the Sea,” “Part of Your World” and the Oscar-winning ballad “Kiss the Girl.” The late Howard Ashman wrote the lyrics to the film’s iconic songs.

The role marks Bailey’s feature film debut, following the formation of her Grammy-nominated music group Chloe x Halle with her sister in 2015. The pair first rose to fame by posting YouTube covers of Beyoncé before they were eventually discovered by the R&B superstar and her record label. Since their discovery, the duo has signed a record deal with Parkwood Entertainment and has opened for Beyoncé on her “Lemonade” tour.

Despite her obvious talent as a singer, Bailey has been a controversial pick among some Disney fans, for the simple reason that she isn’t a white redhead like the animated character. Although many people have praised the casting, some fans even have gone so far as to launch the hashtag #NotMyAriel and start online petitions calling for Disney to remove Bailey as “The Little Mermaid’s” new star.

Disney’s cable network Freeform responded on Instagram with “An open letter to the Poor, Unfortunate Souls” who took issue with Bailey’s casting, tartly noting that “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,” the post reads.

“Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black,” the letter continued. “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,” the post continues.

“But spoiler alert – bring it back to the top – the character of Ariel is a work of fiction,” the network continued. “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.”

Jodi Benson, who originally voiced the character in the animated “Little Mermaid” as well as its subsequent director-to-video sequels and TV series, also defended Bailey’s casting at the Florida Supercon convention.

“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,” Benson said, per Comicbook.com.

Benson added that “the most important thing for a film is to be able to tell a story.”

“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,” Benson said to applause.

“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.”

Diana Huey, the Asian-American performer who played Ariel in the national tour of the musical “The Little Mermaid,” also took to Instagram to support Bailey and thank Disney for the inclusive casting.

“When I had the honor to flipping’ my fins as Ariel for a year in the national tour of Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID, I, as an actor of color, was met with a lot of adversity and upset from people. But more importantly, I was showered with an overwhelming outpouring of love, support and messages of hope and inspiration from people across the globe,” Huey wrote on Instagram.

“I pass the torch and stand by Halle Bailey. Isn’t Ariel’s entire message about finding where she belongs, where she is her truest self, and where she feels full and accepted? Halle is going to make a beautiful Ariel, a powerful Ariel and an inspiring Ariel and I am so excited to watch her change the world with her performance as she helps continue to make our world a more loving, inclusive and open minded place. Share love, be love, spread love!”

As previously reported, Huey went viral in 2017 when she talked to reporters about the negative feedback she received after she was revealed in posters as the new Ariel for the musical’s tour. Huey told me that even she doubted that she would be cast as the lead in the national touring production because she was born in Japan and looked obviously Asian.

“When I went in to audition I was like, ‘I’m not gonna get this because I’m not white. I don’t look like Ariel.’ I knew the director from another project, so he called me in and I was like, ‘How nice of you to call me in. Yeah, I do think I could do this, I do think I could play Ariel, and I do think I could do the things that are required to play her. … But you’re not gonna want to take me across America,’” she told me in a 2017 interview.

“Looking back at that now makes me really sad that I put the same self-doubt on myself that other people are putting on me based on the way I look. I should have not felt that way, and I’m learning now. I am deciding to not let those things affect me. I’m an actor. I am obviously not a mermaid in real life, but I’m acting, so why can’t I be?”

Hopefully, Disney will continue to embrace inclusive casting, making even more little girls part of Ariel’s world.

-BAM

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