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Jodi Benson, star of original 'Little Mermaid,' defends Halle Bailey's live-action casting

  • July 09, 2019

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Director Rob Marshall said Halle Bailey was the one to play Ariel in the live-action reimagining of “The Little Mermaid.”
USA TODAY

Halle Bailey has the official stamp of approval from the OG little mermaid herself, Jodi Benson.

Benson, who originated the role of Ariel in Disney’s 1989 animated film, defended singer-actress Bailey on Saturday against racist comments after the 19-year-old was announced as the star of the upcoming live-action “Little Mermaid” adaptation. 

“I think the most important thing is to tell the story,” Benson told fans at pop culture convention Florida Supercon. “We have, as a family, raised our children and for ourselves that we don’t see anything that’s different on the outside. 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.” 

Many fans rejoiced on social media last week after Bailey’s casting was announced, but others had nasty things to say about Disney’s choice of a new black princess.

Several people and organizations have since defended her against the backlash, including Disney-owned TV network Freeform and Sierra Boggess, who originated the role of Ariel in the Broadway adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” 

“Alright, I’m tired of this, listen again,” Boggess tweeted over the weekend. ” ‘Bright young women, sick of swimmin,’ ready to stand…’ I hear this being the cry of EVERY little girl, don’t you?”

Speaking Saturday, Benson, 57, continued: “Let’s face it I’m really, really old. Like, when i’m singing ‘Part of Your World,’ if you were to judge me by the way I look on the outside it might change the way you interpret the song but if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel… 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 we can fall in love with the film again.”

Director Rob Marshall said in a Disney release that Bailey was the one to play the part after an “extensive search.”

“It was abundantly clear that Halle possesses that rare combination of spirit, heart, youth, innocence, and substance – plus a glorious singing voice – all intrinsic qualities necessary to play this iconic role,” said Marshall. 

Contributing: Maeve McDermott, Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY.

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