When Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel in Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid,” the reaction was as expected, including a small but vocal contingent throwing about the word ‘agenda’ a lot amidst other and often nastier uses of the English language.

The backlash was enough that the hashtag #NotMyAriel sprung up on social media after announcing the casting. In a 2023 preview piece for EW, the film’s director Rob Marshall has fired back at the outrage and racism that came with some of that reaction.

The “Chicago” and “Into the Woods” helmer says he and the casting team auditioned every ethnicity for the role before settling on Bailey. Marshall says: “We just were looking for the best actor for the role, period. The end. We saw everybody and every ethnicity. [The goal was to find someone who can be] incredibly strong, passionate, beautiful, smart, clever [and with] a great deal of fire and joy.”

He adds that Bailey had those qualities, and most importantly, the voice the role of Ariel demands: “That voice is something that is so signature and so ethereal and so beautiful that it captures the heart of Eric and he looks for her for the entire film.”

Marshall adds that he never expected there to be such much focus on her casting: “I wasn’t anticipating that because, in a way, I felt like we’ve moved so far past that kind of thing, 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.”

So far Bailey has only been heard singing a line or two from “Part of Your World” in the teaser trailer, though a new trailer with more of her vocal talents on display is likely to come in the new year ahead of the film’s opening on May 26th.

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