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Original ‘Little Mermaid’ Actress Jodi Benson Speaks Out About Halle Bailey Criticism

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Jodi Benson

We’re diving under the sea with Disney’s upcoming live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid. Fans couldn’t be more excited. But in July 2019, Disney announced actress Halle Bailey will be playing Ariel. The news was met with mixed reviews. Now, Jodi Benson, the voice of the original Ariel, is showing her support for Bailey.

Not My Ariel

When it was announced Grown-ish actress Halle Bailey would be starring in the upcoming live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid, fans were upset at the news. The news was met with backlash over the African-American actress being chosen to portray Ariel, a traditionally white character with long, flowy red hair. Twitter users used the hashtag #NotMyAriel to share their opinions on the casting decision.

One Twitter user (@GloriaB13453353) said, “I will not go to the cinema to see that movie, Disney must respect its own creation, I am not racist and the actress is excellent but Ariel is white skin and red hair, so it is written in the original story and in the animated movie.” Another user (@FizzyEthan) said, “Yo. The little mermaid being black is changing the whole character. Bad choice.”

Another Twitter user (@PaolaF155150463) explained that the recent casting decision does not align with the original Hans Christian Andersen story, in which Ariel was a white, red-headed mermaid. Disney’s 1989 animated film accurately replicated the original story. The tweet said, “It’s not a movie about mermaids…It’s about the 1989 Disney movie based on the story The Little Mermaid written by Hans Christian Andersen where he describes white skin as blue eyes. Ariel is from DENMARK…Nordic…”

Following the backlash, Bailey addressed the negativity. She isn’t backing out of her contract, nor is she remaining silent about the news. She’s excited about having the opportunity to play Ariel. Bailey commented, “I feel like I’m dreaming. And I’m just grateful. I don’t pay attention to the negativity; I just feel like this role is something bigger than me. And it’s going to be beautiful. I’m just so excited to be a part of it.”

Supporting A Fellow Ariel

Jodi Benson, the actress who voiced Ariel in Disney’s original live-action animated version of The Little Mermaid, spoke out about the recent backlash against Disney’s casting of Bailey as the new Ariel at the Florida Supercon convention in July 2019. She stressed that the story is what matters; people need to look beyond Ariel’s appearance and focus on the story itself.

“The most important thing is to tell the story,” Benson said. “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 isn’t a stranger to the character. She voiced Ariel in the original 1989 animated film, as well as in other film projects. She loves the character and encourages others to look beyond the character’s appearance. “We need to be storytellers,” she said. “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.”

Filming for the live-action The Little Mermaid is expected to begin in 2020. While some fans are still skeptical of Bailey’s casting, other fans say to wait until the first trailer is released. Then, you can make your judgments on Bailey’s performance.

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