Josh Gad wades into 'pathetic' racist swells over Halle Bailey as 'Little Mermaid'

A collage showing a man on the phone pointing next to a woman in costume as a mermaid
Josh Gad, left, is among those defending Disney's casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel in the live-action movie "The Little Mermaid." (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times; Disney)
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Olaf and LeFou have waded into the heated "Little Mermaid" waters.

"Frozen" and live-action "Beauty and the Beast" star Josh Gad on Thursday called out the "pathetic" people who disliked the latest trailer for Disney's remake of "The Little Mermaid," specifically those poor unfortunate souls who still couldn't get over R&B singer Halle Bailey playing the titular princess Ariel.

"Imagine being so broken and pathetic in life that your chief concern is the skin color of … a make-believe singing mermaid,” the actor wrote on Twitter, retweeting a post by Call to Activism stating that “The Little Mermaid” trailer" is "currently being mass 'disliked' on YouTube by MAGA racists."

The full trailer, which made a splash Sunday during the Oscars, has been viewed on YouTube more than 8.5 million times. It has received 191,000 likes but, according to Call to Activism's post, has been "disliked" more than 300,000 times and has been subjected to a tsunami of comments haranguing the special effects-laden production. (The teaser trailer that Disney released in September reportedly was disliked 3 million times.)

"The important thing about the controversy surrounding Halle Bailey's casting is that we remember a beautiful and talented actress won the role. We can’t allow racism to ever be normalized," the post said.

Indeed, the Chloe x Halle singer has been subject to a flood of racist remarks since her casting was announced in 2019. #NotMyAriel began trending and people complained about the studio choosing a Black actor to play a character who appeared white in the 1989 animated classic.

“As a Black person, you just expect it and it’s not really a shock anymore,” she told the Face in February. The "Do It" and "Ungodly Hour" siren, a mentee of music powerhouse Beyoncé, has managed to float above the commentary and is focused on the positives of representation onscreen.

“I know people are like, ‘It’s not about race.’ But now that I’m her. ... People don’t understand that when you’re Black there’s this whole other community,” the 22-year-old performer said. “It’s so important for us to see ourselves.”

Pushing racist flotsam and jetsam aside, Bailey has already received a seal of approval from Jodi Benson, who voiced the rebellious sea princess in the original musical. In September, the prolific voice actor said that Bailey delivers a "beautiful performance as Ariel" and called her "stunning" on Instagram. And "West Side Story" star Rachel Zegler, a Latina who will play Snow White in an upcoming Disney remake, also has tried to drown out naysayers by responding to their twin backlashes with "If you don’t support my girl halle, who is the perfect ariel, you don’t support any of us."

Bailey has meanwhile embraced the role: touting the fashion doll taking on her likeness as Ariel, speaking lovingly about the music on the Oscars red carpet and teasing the film's trailer with co-star Melissa McCarthy during the 95th Academy Awards. McCarthy plays Ursula in the upcoming film.

As for Gad, it's not the first time the outspoken actor has navigated a controversy surrounding an updated Disney film. The "History of the World: Part II" star played Gaston's long-suffering sidekick LeFou in director Bill Condon's 2017 remake of "Beauty and the Beast," a character billed as Disney's first openly gay character whose feelings for his pal lead to an "exclusively gay moment" in the film. But the actor said he "regrets" how the blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment played out.

"We didn’t go far enough to warrant accolades,” he told the Independent last year. “We didn’t go far enough to say, ‘Look how brave we are.’

"My regret in what happened is that it became ‘Disney’s first explicitly gay moment’ and it was never intended to be that. It was never intended to be a moment that we should laud ourselves for, because frankly, I don’t think we did justice to what a real gay character in a Disney film should be.”

"The Little Mermaid" is being helmed by Oscar-nominated director Rob Marshall ("Mary Poppins Returns," "Chicago," "Nine") and features four new songs written by Alan Menken, who won two Oscars for the music of the original film, and “Hamilton” scribe Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Moana,” “Encanto,” “Mary Poppins Returns”).

The film also stars Javier Bardem as King Triton, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder and Awkwafina as Scuttle. It dives into theaters May 26.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.