Little Mermaid 2023 cast say Disney film’s diversity is ‘wonderful’

Written by on May 26, 2023

  • By Megan Lawton
  • Newsbeat reporter

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Halle Bailey says she’s been moved to tears by the joyful reaction some people had to her being cast as Ariel

If you’re planning on watching The Little Mermaid at the cinema this weekend, you’ll notice several changes from the original.

Firstly it’s a live-action remake, so combines real-life actors with computer-animated sea creatures.

And one of the biggest changes is the diversity of the cast.

You’ll probably know, thanks to social media posts or billboards, that main character Ariel is played by black actress and singer Halle Bailey.

But diversity in 2023’s Little Mermaid goes beyond her character – Ariel’s six sisters are all played by actors from different ethnicities.

And when BBC Newsbeat speaks to Halle, it’s something she wants to celebrate.

“I am overjoyed I get to represent for this new generation,” she says.

Joy is a feeling that’s followed Halle since she was revealed as the new Ariel.

And seeing that still hasn’t got old for Halle.

“I’ve cried 10 times today,” she says. “I saw 10 new videos and I can’t stop getting emotional.”

Image caption,

Halle’s been praised for her “star-making” turn as Ariel

Playing Ariel meant a great deal to Halle and she was keen to bring her culture and identity to the role.

One example is her hair, which she kept natural for the film. Unlike 1989’s cartoon Ariel, with her long, straight red hair, Halle has dreadlocks, or locs.

But it did make certain moments – like Ariel’s iconic hair flick – harder to film.

“My hair was really heavy because I have my locs, so we shot it more than 20 times to get it right,” says Halle.

“But it was so fun. I’ve loved recreating moments like those.”

It’s an image “beautiful black and brown children deserve to see”, she says.

Castmate and fellow mermaid Sienna King agrees, and says it sends a powerful message.

“For so many years, we’ve been told that having straight hair – especially for black women – is the idea of beauty,” says Sienna.

“Now we get to see someone with dreadlocks and their natural kinky, curly hair.

“It’s so beautiful and I’m very blessed to see that and be a part of that as well.”

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Sienna King plays the mermaid Tamika and says making the film felt like making history

When casting the film, director Rob Marshall says he and his team had no agenda and auditioned “every ethnicity” before landing on Halle.

Sienna believes this approach to casting will set a precedent for the future.

“Representation really does matter on all levels, from size, disability, colour and gender,” she says.

“This movie is now the forefront of that, so I’m grateful to be a part of history.”

Like many Disney films, The Little Mermaid has a huge budget behind it.

Jonah Hauer-King, who plays Ariel’s love interest Eric, says he wants the project’s “open-minded” casting to be the norm moving forward.

“There was equal opportunity and that’s really special,” he says.

“What’s beautiful about the film is that it represents the world that we live in and it does it in a really seamless way.”

Joshua says the Little Mermaid is “trailblazing” for people “who don’t often see themselves on-screen in this way”.

“It’s special and I think it’s going to make a massive difference,” he says.

Image caption,

Jonah Hauer-King, who plays Prince Eric, praised the movie’s “open-minded” casting process

Kajsa Mohammar plays Karina, another of Ariel’s sisters, and tells Newsbeat there were tears on set – but the good kind.

“When we filmed the final scene, I looked around and I saw everybody represented,” she says.

“I was bawling my eyes out because you dream to be part of something like this and then it happens and it’s so beautiful.

“I think the diversity is the strongest point of the film. It’s wonderful.”

Bigging up director Rob Marshall, she says “everything is now possible” in the future.

“Rob has set the bar so high, updating an older film and doing it as sensitively as he has, really lighting the way for what we can do.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays – or listen back here.

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