Rob Marshall already thought color-blind casting was part of our world.
“I wasn’t anticipating that because, in a way, I felt like we’ve moved so far past that kind of thing,” Marshall told Entertainment Weekly. “But then you realize, in a way we haven’t. It was very moving to me to see how important this kind of casting is for the world.”
Marshall added that there was “no agenda” to casting Bailey as Ariel, other than the fact that she had a stellar singing voice and a “great deal of fire and joy” as a performer.
“We just were looking for the best actor for the role, period. The end,” Marshall said. “We saw everybody and every ethnicity.”
While other actresses felt too “jaded” or “too wise,” Bailey “still had that freshness in herself,” the “Into the Woods” helmer said. “As soon as we cast her, we were really thinking in terms of how we can make this her Ariel.”
Lead star Bailey, who is one half of the sister duo Chloe x Halle, told The Hollywood Reporter, “The fact that I get to represent all of these little young Black and brown boys and girls who are to come is really special to me because I know that if I had that when I was younger, it would have changed my whole perspective on life.”
Bailey already received racist backlash for the clip of her singing “Part of Your World” with 1.5 million “dislikes” on YouTube before the rating feature was disabled. When Bailey was cast as Ariel in 2019, a #NotMyAriel racist Twitter campaign ensued.
Comedian Trevor Noah spoke out on the controversy earlier this year.
“Really, people — we’re doing this again?” Noah slammed the criticism that Bailey looks “nothing like” the animated Ariel from the 1989 Oscar-winning animated film. “Nothing like? They both have the tail, they both have the red [hair].”
The former “The Daily Show” host continued, “Once again, a bunch of internet racists are upset that a fictional character is being played by a Black person. This is so ridiculous.”
“The Little Mermaid” also stars Javier Bardem, Melissa McCarthy, Awkwafina, and Daveed Diggs, and features four new songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alan Menken. The film is set to premiere May 26, 2023.