With the premiere of The Little Mermaid upon us, did Disney make a massive mistake in the cast of the live-action remake?
Disney’s latest live-action adaptation, The Little Mermaid (2023), will premiere in just a few months. While the film has been divisive among Disney fans since its earliest announcements — with many criticizing the decisions made for the movie while others praise the efforts for inclusion and representation — millions of fans worldwide are eager to enjoy the reimagined story of Ariel. However, is it possible that Disney missed a tremendous opportunity with the cast of the new movie?
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The live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid will star singer and actress Halle Bailey in the leading role of Ariel, along with Javier Bardem as King Triton, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, Awkwafina as Scuttle, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Chef Louis, and Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, the sea witch.
But despite the star-studded cast and stunning visual effects we could enjoy in the official trailer for the live-action adaptation, in addition to the heart-stirring songs that will be featured in the movie, it is inevitable to think that Disney missed the perfect chance to double down on its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, ignoring the chance to cast a transgender actress or a drag queen to play the iconic role of Ursula, the sea witch.
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While Melissa McCarthy looks amazing playing Ursula and will surely give a sublime performance as the sea witch, the nature and history of the Disney villain provide the perfect opportunity to cast a transgender actress or a drag queen for the role, adding to Disney’s efforts to promote inclusion and better representation of the LGBTQIA+ community and other minorities — despite receiving severe backlash with many accusing Disney of promoting “woke garbage.”
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While the decision would’ve been controversial, it wouldn’t have been the first time Disney gave a lead role to a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
In the 1989 version of The Little Mermaid, the role of Ursula, the sea witch, was played in Latin America by Serena Olvido, a transgender actress and singer whose performance has been praised by multiple voice coaches and actors due to the difference her deep androgynous voice gave to the character, making the sea witch a much more chilling villain in the Spanish version movie compared to Pat Carroll’s performance in the original version. You can enjoy Olvido’s performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” in the video below:
In addition to Serena Olvido’s performance in the 1989 film, the original character design for Ursula was largely inspired by American actor and drag queen Divine, best known for his frequent appearances in several movies directed by filmmaker John Waters including Pink Flamingos (1972). Rob Minkoff first drew Ursula’s similarities with the actor, sharing Divine’s signature eye makeup, jewelry, and body type — along with a mohawk inspired by Divine’s Pink Flamingos look — completely changing the original idea for the character and making Ursula the boldest characterization Disney had created for a villain at that time, per “The Gospel according to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust” author Mark I. Pinsky.
While we won’t see a drag queen or a transgender actress playing Ursula in The Little Mermaid once the live-action premieres on May 26, 2023, there are still possibilities to push forward for inclusion, as Disney could cast a member of the LGBTQIA+ community to play the beloved Disney villain in a live musical at the Disney Parks, the Disney Cruise Line, or even on Broadway.
Regardless of what could have been, we can’t wait to see the talented Melissa McCarthy and Halle Bailey on the big screen when The Little Mermaid premieres on May 26!
Should Disney have cast a drag queen or transgender actress to play Ursula in The Little Mermaid? Share your thoughts with Inside the Magic in the comments below!