The Little Mermaid Director Explains Why He Was Shocked By The Attention Halle Bailey's Casting Received

Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid.
(Image credit: Disney)

The Little Mermaid is the animated movie that launched the period known as the Disney Renaissance. As such, the essentially inevitable live-action remake was always going to be a highly anticipated project. Having said that, the movie has become one of the most talked about movies in Hollywood ever since Halle Bailey was announced as the actress who would play the role of Ariel. Director Rob Marshall admits that the attention was not something he was expecting.

The casting of Halle Bailey has resulted in some very vocal people on both sides of the decision. There has been a lot of, to be frank, racist backlash against Bailey’s casting because the previously white animated character will be played by a Black actress and a lot of people seem to have forgotten that the original character is a cartoon fish person. However, the thing Rob Marshall tells EW was really surprised about has been the positive support from those that, upon seeing Bailey in the first Little Mermaid teaser trailer, have gone viral with reactions of love. Marshall said… 

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.

People at Disney likely were expecting the negative backlash. That sort of thing has unfortunately become all too common. The positive response however, Marshall says he was not ready for. It sounds like he just didn’t realize quite what it would mean to so many to be represented in this way. Video of little girls watching the Little Mermaid trailer went viral. Bailey has received a strong outpouring of support to counterbalance the negativity. 

Which is not to say that representation was a specific consideration when it came to casting the role. Marshall explains that many different women from many different backgrounds were considered. Marshall says there was no agenda, the goal, somewhat like Prince Eric in the movie itself, was simply to find the right voice. He continued…

We just were looking for the best actor for the role, period. The end. We saw everybody and every ethnicity.

In the end, they settled on Halle Bailey due to what Marshall calls her “freshness.” While there may not have been an agenda in her casting, the decision has clearly had repercussions. While certainly inspired by the original Disney film, we know the live action version will include some number of changes, including new music and an expanded role for Prince Eric. It will be a whole new world for fans of The Little Mermaid when the movie hits theaters next summer.  

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis.  Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.