Jodi Benson, Original Voice of 'Little Mermaid,' Addresses Halle Bailey Casting Backlash
By Scott Baumgartner
Earl Gibson III/WireImage
Jodi Benson, who provided the voice of Ariel in the 1989 animated film, The Little Mermaid, is showing her support for the casting of Halle Bailey in Disney's upcoming live-action remake as she weathers pushback.
"The most important thing is to tell the story. And we have, as a family, we have raised our children, and for ourselves, that we don’t see anything that’s different on the outside," the 57-year-old actress explained at a Florida convention on Saturday, via Comicbook.com.
"I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters," she added. "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 later emphasized that, for her, the most important thing is that the talent involved tell a story that clicks with audiences.
"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," she continued. "So I know for Disney that they have the heart of storytelling, that’s really what they’re trying to do. They want to communicate with all of us in the audience so that we can fall in love with the film again."
"Yes. The original author of The Little Mermaid was Danish. Ariel...is a mermaid. She lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can legit swim wherever she wants (even though that often upsets King Triton, absolute zaddy)," their post stated. "But for the sake of argument, let's say that Ariel, too, is Danish. Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black. Ariel can sneak up to the surface at any time with her pals Scuttle and the *ahem* Jamaican crab Sebastian (sorry, Flounder!) and keep that bronze base tight. Black Danish people, and this mer-folk, can also *genetically* (!!!) have red hair."
"But spoiler alert - bring it back to the top - the character of Ariel is a work of fiction," the post added. "So after all this is said and done, and you still cannot get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly-talented, gorgeous Halle Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that it is because she 'doesn't look like the cartoon one,' oh boy, do I have some news for you...about you."
Fellow actors and performers have also come to Hailey’s defense amid the debate including Zendaya, Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Janelle Monae and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Keke Palmer, who was the first African American actress to play Cinderella on Broadway, has also offered Bailey a full-throated endorsement.
"What's up y'all, it's me, the black Cinderella," Palmer said on GMA’s Strahan and Sara on Monday. "And I know you're scared because Hollywood is making an effort to be more diverse in the people that they show on screen. But let me ask you this: why can't a mermaid be black? Why is that too unrealistic for you -- because you do know she's friends with a talking crab, and I know you're not the sharpest people, but crabs can't talk. In fact, the entire thing is fiction!"
"And, since the beginning of the entertainment industry, the most roles for black women were that of the maid,” she added. “So it's about damn time we get to play the mermaid."