Jodi Benson, who played Ariel in the original 1989 classic, has responded to the backlash against Bailey’s casting in The Little Mermaid live-action remake
Last week’s announcement that Halle Bailey had landed the lead role of Ariel in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid was met with excitement from Disney fans everywhere.
Bailey – who is best known for being one half of singing duo Chlo x Halle – was cast by Director Rob Marshall due to what he called her “rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance,” all of which are “intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role.”
It also helps that she has a “glorious singing voice,” he added. We’ve already got the tissues at the ready for Bailey’s rendition of Part of Your World.
Celebs and fans alike soon took to Twitter to congratulate Bailey, including Halle Berry, who tweeted a photo of Bailey alongside an animated image of her as Ariel with the caption “In case you needed a reminder…Halles get it DONE. Congratulations @chloexhall on this amazing opportunity, we can’t wait to see what you do!”
Other stars including Mariah Carey and model/actor Keith Powers also showered Bailey with praise, and many users expressed their excitement at the prospect of having the new Ariel as a role model for young black girls everywhere.
But sadly, not everyone welcomed the announcement with the enthusiasm it deserved.
Bailey’s news was met with an immediate backlash on social media, where a hashtag campaign – apparently assisted by bots – saw #NotMyAriel trending.
Most of the attention was focused on Bailey’s race. Some trolls even tried to argue that mythical fairy tale mermaid creatures had ‘historically’ always been white, making it unacceptable for Disney to cast an actress of any other ethnicity. Seriously?! Give us a break.
While Disney has yet to respond to the backlash over their casting of Bailey, Freeform, a Disney-owned TV network, issued a pretty scathing statement on Sunday defending the decision.
In an Instagram post titled, “An open letter to the Poor, Unfortunate Souls,” in a clever play on one of the film’s songs, Freeform reminded fans upset by the deviation from the original depiction of the character that, after all, “Ariel . . . is a mermaid” and a fictional character.
And now, the actress who voiced Ariel in the original animated version of the film has also spoken out in support of Bailey.
Speaking at Florida Supercon this weekend, Jodi Benson – the OG Ariel from the 1989 classic – insisted that she supported Bailey’s casting and reminded fans that they’d be wrong to focus on the “outside package”.
“I think that the spirit of the character is what really matters,” said Benson.
She went on to urge Disney fans to remember what’s really important when it comes to their beloved characters.
“No matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the colour of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever colour, we really need to tell the story.”
“Let’s face it,” she joked. “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,” she said. “We need to be storytellers.”
Halle Bailey will be following in the footsteps of stars like Beyoncé, Naomi Scott and Lily James who are all part of the new wave of live-action remakes which are set to give the problematic ‘Disney Princess’ trope a serious 21st-century makeover. We’re thinking feminist, we’re thinking fierce and, frankly, we can’t WAIT.
Images: Getty, Instagram