It’s no secret that we at The Root are very excited about Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid. The countless social media reactions from Black kids who finally got to see themselves as a Disney princess were heartwarming. To many, this may just be another update of a well-known fairy tale, but for the culture, it’s so much more. The film’s director, Rob Marshall, was not prepared for the impact of Bailey’s casting or for the backlash to it. The Oscar-nominee told Entertainment Weekly that the team had “no agenda” and that they wanted someone “incredibly strong, passionate, beautiful, smart, clever.”
“We just were looking for the best actor for the role, period. The end,” Marshall said. “We saw everybody and every ethnicity.”
Though the story still revolves around a mermaid who makes a deal with a witch to trade her voice for a chance at love, the filmmaker describes this Ariel as a more modern version of the classic princess.
“No. 1 is her passion—that fire is very important,” the Chicago director said. “She feels displaced and it’s really an epic story of finding your true self. But also there needs to be a great deal of joy. It’s a strange combination of innocence and wisdom and a great deal of soul and heart. She’s very modern in that way.”
It’s very clear from the short teaser featuring Halle singing “Part of Your World” that producers made the right choice and she will be an amazing Ariel.
Marshall rather naively admits that he didn’t understand what the impact of casting Bailey would be. “I wasn’t anticipating that because, in a way, I felt like we’ve moved so far past that kind of thing, but then you realize, in a way we haven’t,” he said. “It was very moving to me to see how important this kind of casting is for the world.”
Marshall stresses that Halle won’t be copying a previous incarnation of Ariel, the character will very much be her interpretation and play to her strengths.
“Halle still had that freshness in herself,” he said. “As soon as we cast her, we were really thinking in terms of how we can make this her Ariel.”
The Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey as Ariel; Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric; Daveed Diggs as Sebastian; Awkwafina as Scuttle; Jacob Tremblay as Flounder; Javier Bardem as King Triton; Noma Dumezweni as Queen Selina; and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, dives into theaters May 26.