Jodi Benson, the actress who voiced Ariel in Disney's original animated version of The Little Mermaid, has spoken up in defence of the studio casting Halle Bailey in the role for its new live-action remake.
A vocal minority of online trolls have complained over the casting of a black actress in the role, when Ariel, a fictional mermaid, was played by a white character in the original in 1989.
Benson spoke on the subject to Comicbook.com at the Florida Supercon convention, saying: “We need to be storytellers.
“And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the colour of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever colour, we really need to tell the story.
“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.”
She went on: “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.”
Read more: Who is Halle Bailey?
The racist hashtag #NotMyAriel has emerged on Twitter since Bailey's casting, and a petition was even started at Change.org, though it has since been deleted.
Bailey, half of the R&B group Chloe X Halle, was announced for the role last week, with Melissa McCarthy rumoured to be playing Ursula.
Disney's cable channel Freeform yesterday took to its official social media channels to slam the racist undercurrent around Bailey's casting, noting that the original story, by Hans Christian Anderson, is Danish.
It called those complaining about the issue 'poor unfortunate souls'.
Production on the movie will start in April 2020, with a release date yet to be announced. The cast reportedly includes Melissa McCarthy as the evil sea witch Ursula, Awkwafina as the seagull Scuttle, and Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Ariel’s fishy friend.