The cast of the upcoming live-action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid was announced a few weeks ago and while we’ve known for some time that Black actress/singer Halle Bailey – from Chloe x Halle and Grown-ish – had been cast as Ariel, it was a pleasant surprise that the rest of the first-billed cast was also quite diverse. Months before the casting, we also learned that Puerto Rican actor/playwright/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (Moana, In the Heights, Hamilton) is one of the film’s producers and had written four brand-new songs for the film’s soundtrack. It was just announced that British actress from Swaziland in southern African Noma Dumezweni, who played Miss Penny Farthing in Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns and Haley Fitzgerald in HBO’s The Undoing, has also joined the cast.
Though Noma’s character has yet to be announced, according to Hypable, she will be playing a brand-new role that did not exist in the animated classic. The atypically diverse cast includes Spanish actor Javier Bardem as King Triton, Jewish-Black actor Daveed Diggs as Sebastian and actress and comedian Awkwafina who is of Chinese heritage, as Scuttle. Comedian Melissa McCarthy will play Ursula, Jacob Tremblay will play Flounder and Jonah Hauer-King will play Prince Eric.
So yes, we are talking about a Latinx producer and songwriter, a biracial Ariel played by a Black actress, a multi-ethnic actor playing the Caribbean-accented lobster (appropriate, no?) and a woman with an Asian background playing a previously male-voiced seagull. Needless to say, the idea of typecasting has been shot out the window with this one.
“Halle Bailey is going to be such an incredible Ariel,” Miranda told ET. “And getting to write music for these characters that are probably the reason I started writing musicals in the first place, it was actually easier than I thought.”
It appears Disney has heard the call for diversity and representation and is responding with gusto. And to all the folks saying these casting decisions are straying too far from the original, it might be time to get over it. Animated characters aren’t real people and can and should be interpreted in any number of ways. Placing actors of varied races and genders in prominent roles can only be beneficial for children consuming these forms of entertainment, and it’s certainly exciting to see filmmakers breaking the mold so that women and people of color can start seeing themselves on screens in all sorts of roles rather than the just the traditional and often stereotyped roles we are used to seeing again and again.
Now we just need to see more people of color and women of color in places of power, so that change can start coming from the top down as well. Production has been stalled due to the pandemic so no word yet on when the film will be released but we’re ready.