Walt Disney’s Granddaughter’s Candid Take On The Online Response To The Diverse Casting In The Studio’s Films

Rachel Zegler as Maria in West Side Story wearing a white dress. Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid singing Part of Your World.
(Image credit: Disney)

Of the upcoming Disney movies, two of the most anticipated and talked about are the live-action remakes of The Little Mermaid and Snow White. In both movies, Disney has cast women of color in the title roles. Halle Bailey, a Black actress and singer, will play Ariel, and Rachel Zegler, a Latina actress known for her role in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, will play Snow White. Many have criticized this casting because they are women of color playing parts that were originally portrayed as white women. Now, Abigail Disney, Walt Disney’s granddaughter, is getting candid about how she feels about the casting. 

Disney made it clear she supports the casting and also thinks her relatives would have “embraced the push for diversity” at the studio. She explained her feelings about the casting and people’s reactions to Yahoo!, saying: 

I mean, it’s all made up people! I don’t understand why it’s controversial. I live in New York City and the world to me looks like everything and everyone all the time, and I love that. That makes me feel alive. I don’t want to live in a world where everybody’s just boring and white. My grandfather and granduncle were men of their time, and that wasn’t always a good thing. But they were also creatives, and they understood the value of a vibrant, changing and eclectic culture.

Walt Disney Studios and it’s counterparts, including Pixar and Marvel, have clearly made an effort to create content that is made by and stars people of color. This year Pixar released Turning Red, which stars a predominantly Asian cast and Marvel released Ms. Marvel, which centers around a Pakistani-American family and incorporates Islam into the story, and these are just two examples of how Disney has diversified its content across different studios. With the live-action remakes, people are fed up because the characters were originally white in the animated feature. Abigail Disney called these people out again in a tweet, writing: 

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Many other celebrities have spoken out in support of The Little Mermaid’s choice to cast Bailey. The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah responded by calling those who don’t support the casting “internet racists.” While fellow mermaid and Splash star Daryl Hannah defended Bailey’s casting on Twitter. Fellow Disney princess Rachel Zegler also tweeted her support for Bailey. Zegler was responding to a tweet that supported her casting as Snow White but did not approve of Bailey’s casting. The actress stated if the user couldn't support Bailey he didn't support any of the actresses.

Zegler has also spoken about her own casting as Snow White. She explained what it was like being a Latina actress taking on the role, saying while the character is not normally Latina, but is an "iconic" character in Spanish-speaking countries. The actress also has spoken about how important it is to see Latin representation in musicals, and said West Side Story, which she starred in along with an ensemble of Latin actors, was a “step in the right direction.” 

While both women have received criticism over their casting, it’s clear they are also making a positive impact because little girls get to see themselves represented in a way they haven’t before.

Riley Utley
Weekend Editor

Riley Utley is the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. She has written for national publications as well as daily and alt-weekly newspapers in Spokane, Washington, Syracuse, New York and Charleston, South Carolina. She graduated with her master’s degree in arts journalism and communications from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Since joining the CB team she has covered numerous TV shows and movies -- including her personal favorite shows Ted Lasso and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She also has followed and consistently written about everything from Taylor Swift to Fire Country, and she's enjoyed every second of it.