Halle Bailey (not Halle Berry), the recently announced star of Disney’s live action remake of The Little Mermaid, has been offered some advice by Diana Huey, the first non-white actress to have ever played Ariel, and therefore someone uniquely qualified to understand what she’s going through. When the teenage actress and R&B singer was cast as the titular undersea princess earlier this week, a predictable backlash followed due to an African-American actress being cast as a character previously portrayed as white, because the internet is often a wretched hive of scum and villainy that brings out the worst in its denizens.
Although originally a fairy tale written in 1837 by author Hans Christian Andersen, Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid is easily the most famous interpretation of it. In the 30 years since, there have been several subsequent versions of the story and character derived from the House of Mouse’s offering, almost every time having Ariel played by a white actress, and thus cementing the image of her as a pale redhead in the minds of audiences.
When speaking to The Wrap, Huey, a Japanese-American performer who played Ariel in a 2017 touring production of the 2008 Broadway stage version of the film, offered some advice to Bailey about dealing with the trolling, and related her own experiences as the first actress of color to have donned the fishtail and clamshells. Huey stated that “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.” She also stated that representation would “make the world just a more opened-minded place,” and related a time after a performance in middle America where a white woman was moved to tears due to her adopted Asian daughter being able to see someone on stage in whom she could see herself.
It’s telling that in the 300 or so shows in which Huey performed, not one child in the audience took issue with her appearance, and on the contrary recognized her out of costume and embraced her as the character. It was only adults who ever had a problem with her, and the comments started to wear her down until she received a message of support from Sierra Boggess, the actress who originated Ariel on Broadway, which inspired her to follow suit and speak out now in solidarity with Bailey.
While the explicit racism displayed in the reactions to Bailey’s casting can be disheartening, the willful ignorance of the comments makes them easy to dismiss. Complaints like the story’s purity being tainted but ignoring that the original tale ends with the heroine dissolving into sea foam when she refuses to kill the prince to turn back into a mermaid after she fails to win his love; stating that Ariel should be a redhead as if hair dye isn’t a thing; or claiming it would be exactly the same for other princesses like Mulan, Tiana or Moana to be played by white actresses, ignoring that their ethnicities are integral to their characters. Huey’s comments about the importance of the choice to cast Bailey in The Little Mermaid echo the thoughts of most people, but the fact that they come from a place of personal experience make them all the more significant and worth listening to.
Source: The Wrap