Actress Jodi Benson says it's all about capturing 'the spirit' of the iconic mermaid

By Rachel Yang
July 09, 2019 at 02:00 AM EDT

The original voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid has given her blessing to Halle Bailey, who will play the beloved character in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake.

Jodi Benson, who voiced the role in the 1989 animated movie, also defended Bailey’s casting after online trolls complained that a black actress was cast to play the part. “We need to be storytellers. 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,” Benson said at the Florida Supercon convention, according to Comicbook.com.

“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,” Benson added.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images; Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Even as she gets older, Benson said she is still able to embody Ariel in her performance. “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,” she said. “But if you close your eyes, you can still hear the spirit of Ariel.”

Online criticism over Bailey’s casting has led to a #NotMyAriel hashtag and a Change.org petition in protest of Disney’s decision to cast a black actress in the role. Some claimed that Ariel should be white as the story derives from a Danish fairytale and that the remake is tarnishing the original movie’s legacy.

Others, however, poked fun at the haters. “I’m offended by the casting of a woman of color as Ariel,” one user tweeted sarcastically. “They should have used an ACTUAL, real mermaid. Sick and tired of this human privilege. #NotMyAriel.”

Despite the negative response, many people have applauded Bailey’s casting, saying that the performer possesses both the acting and singing chops needed for the role. Bailey is one half of R&B duo Chloe x Halle, and stars alongside sister Chloe Bailey on the Freeform comedy Grown-ish. In addition to Benson, other major celebrities have publicly supported Bailey, including Grown-ish castmate Yara Shahidi, Sophie Turner, Zendaya, and Halle Berry, who tweeted that “Halles get it DONE.”

Even Freeform responded to the controversy with a statement pointing out that black Danish people do exist and, of course, “Ariel is a work of fiction.”

In an interview posted Monday, the 19-year-old said she was still “in shock” over her new role. “It’s really, really exciting,” she said. “I just feel really grateful right now. I’m still really in shock. I just found out a day or two ago.”

The Little Mermaid, directed by Rob Marshall, is currently in development. Melissa McCarthy, Jacob Tremblay, Awkwafina, are also part of the cast.

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