Disney’s casting of Grown-ish star Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid live action caused the internet to explode with both excitement and anger over the past couple days. Many are upset at the casting of a Black woman as Ariel because they don’t believe it’s “true” to the pale-skinned, red-haired mermaid of Disney’s animated classic, reports Showbiz Cheat Sheet.
However, the first non-White actress to play Ariel is Japanese American Diana Huey, who played the lead role in the national touring Broadway production in 2017. As the hashtag #NotMyAriel began trending on Twitter, Huey had words of advice to offer Bailey.
“Keep your head up and know than it’s so much bigger than you as a single person fighting these battles,” Huey said to TheWrap. “If she can stay positive and just remember, there’s more support than there is hatred. It’s an important battle to fight and she’s not alone.”
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??I stand with @chloexhalle ?? 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. I had Broadway’s OG Ariel, @officialsierraboggess, stand by me, and now, 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! Thanks @disney for this casting!! #thelittlemermaid #ariel #myariel #hallebailey #hallebaileylittlemermaid #diversitymatters #liveactionlittlemermaid #istandwithhalle #partofyourworld #poc #proudproudproud #disney #mermaid #anyonecanbeadisneyprincess #representationmatters
Huey said she received widespread support from young people during her time playing Ariel on stage across the country.
“I never had one kid in 300-something shows over the course of a year say, ‘Oh, you don’t look like Ariel,'” said Huey. “They would see me come out of the stage door with my hair and street clothes and throw themselves at me screaming. ‘Ariel!’ when I looked like Diana. The kids were totally on board. So if we just keep doing this, that’s the good work we need to do to make the world just a more opened-minded place.”
Huey recalled a post-performance encounter in one town in middle America, where she met a White woman in tears who was so happy that her adopted Asian daughter could see someone on stage who looked like her.
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Meeting all the little little mermaids on the road across the country will always be one of the most cherished memories of my entire life. I can’t tell you how many of these experiences legitimately changed my life, made me reevaluate many complicated feelings of my own self worth, diversity, the importance of the arts and live theater and why we do what we do... kids are just amazing. Thanks for this sweet memory and reminder, @timehop! . . . #timehop #thelittlemermaid #thelittlelittlemermaid #kidsareamazing #ariel #disneyprincess #dreamcometrue #disney #disneykid #asianariel #representationmatters #diversitymatters #tour #kansascity #redhair #wig #broadway #musicaltheatre #nationaltour #ontheroad #nostalgia #weddingdress #partofyourworld #underthesea #flippinyourfins #disneymagic #thebestpart
However, Huey did face resistance from some adults who were very much used to the many light-skinned redhead actresses who looked exactly like the animated princess.
Within the first couple moments of Huey’s casting photo being released, she said a woman made an online comment saying Disney should “Keep it classic.”
“I was like, ‘Oh, great, this is going to be a really hard year. Oh my gosh, how am I going to do this?'” she explained. “And within seconds of her comment, I had people comment back and say, ‘Keep it classic means keep it white, keep it racist.'”
Huey even received a message of support from the original Ariel on Broadway, Sierra Boggess.
“Having Sierra post something and say I stand with Diana Huey meant so much to me,” Huey said. “For every mean, hateful comment were hundreds of supportive comments.”
This inspired Huey to do the same and speak out in support of Bailey.
“As soon as I saw this was happening to her, I needed to pass on that torch and stand up for my fellow Ariel sister, just help shut it down in any way I can.”
In response to those arguing that Ariel should be a White Danish woman since The Little Mermaid is based on a Hans Christian Andersen fable, Huey said, “But then where does Sebastian the Jamaican crab come from? You guys, it takes place under the sea in a magical kingdom of mythical creatures that don’t actually exist. So yeah, we can have them look however we want them to look. That’s the great thing about storytelling, imagination and fiction.
“It’s a story about a character who wants to find where she belongs and fit in and why she doesn’t feel comfortable where she is … that’s everyone’s story.”
Movie production is planned for early 2020 and a release date has not been announced yet.
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