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Original 'Little Mermaid' star defends casting of black actress as new Ariel

"The spirit of a character is what really matters."
Jodi Benson defends new Little Mermaid casting
/ Source: TODAY

Mermaids stick together!

Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” in 1989, is defending the casting of Ariel in the live-action remake of the animated classic.

Jodi Benson defends new Little Mermaid casting
Benson played Ariel in the original 1989 film.Getty Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Disney recently announced that singer-turned-actress Halle Bailey, one half of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle, will play Ariel in the upcoming film, which does not yet have a release date.

Many fans praised Bailey’s casting, but some people complained about it on Twitter with the hashtag #NotMyAriel, saying that an African American actress should not play the Disney princess, who had white skin in the original film.

Jodi Benson defends new Little Mermaid casting
Bailey, 19, is best known as half of the Chloe X Halle music duo.Getty Images for Coachella

Benson fiercely defended Bailey during a recent panel interview at the Florida Supercon pop culture convention.

“I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters,” she said. “What you bring to the table in a character as far as their heart and their spirit is what really counts.”

“I think the most important thing for a film is to be able to tell a story,” she continued. “We need to be storytellers. And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story.”

Benson is one of many celebrities praising Bailey’s casting. Sierra Boggess, who originated the role of Ariel in the Broadway production of “The Little Mermaid,” also came to the singer’s defense.

“Alright, I’m tired of this, listen again: ‘Bright young women, sick of swimmin’, ready to stand…’ I hear this being the cry of EVERY little girl, don’t you?” she tweeted.

Halle Berry also celebrated the news.

“In case you needed a reminder... Halles get it DONE,” she tweeted. “Congratulations @chloexhalle on this amazing opportunity, we can’t wait to see what you do!”

And Mariah Carey sent a message of support.

The Disney-owned network Freeform also defended Bailey, who currently stars in the network’s sitcom “Grown-Ish.”

“The original author of ‘The Little Mermaid’ was Danish. a mermaid. She lives in an underwater kingdom in international waters and can legit swim wherever she wants,” the network wrote in an open letter on Instagram. “For the sake of argument, let’s say that Ariel, too, is Danish. Danish mermaids can be black because Danish *people* can be black.”

The network added that if “you still cannot get past the idea that choosing the incredible, sensational, highly talented, gorgeous Halle Bailey is anything other than the INSPIRED casting that it is because she ‘doesn’t look like the cartoon one,’ oh boy, do I have some news for you...about you.”

In the meantime, Bailey seems over the moon about playing the beloved mermaid, posting this beautiful spin on the original, animated Ariel.

It’s a “dream come true,” she wrote on Twitter.