Diana Huey found herself in the middle of a controversy she didn’t anticipate when she was cast as the lead in a national touring production of “The Little Mermaid”.
Huey, a Japanese-American actress, beat out 50 other potential mermaids for the lead role of Disney’s beloved classic, “The Little Mermaid”. “She was a good actress, she was the right age, she sings it like nobody else,” said director Glenn Casale. “We probably saw 50 Ariels, and Diana really sang it the best.”
While she was initially overjoyed at the casting and looked forward to each new city they toured in, she wasn’t prepared for the social media backlash certain pockets of the U.S. would throw at her; before each show, she would scroll through each new theatre’s FaceBook comment section, only to find a slew of angry netizens outraged by the fact that she was Asian-American. In their minds, the lead role of Ariel should have gone to a White woman.
“It’s hard not to take it personally,” Huey said in a phone interview to Buffalo News. “I had kind of a funky first part of the show and I was like, how do I get out of this? I can’t let that affect me.”
Huey had said that, although she had seen these types of comments since the production began in November of 2016, she noticed their intensity had increased as they traveled to the South. She did her best to push the comments out of her mind, but she found that they stuck with her wherever she went.
It wasn’t until she went to Nashville, TN when she came across an adoring Asian-American fan and her adoptive mother that she was able to shake off the rain cloud following her.
“The mom pulled me aside and said, ‘The second I saw that you were playing Ariel, I just burst into tears for the sake of my daughter being able to see that,'” Huey said. “Seeing a little Asian girl in a place where there aren’t a lot of Asians, it reminds me how important it is to say diversity matters and being open-minded matters and equality matters. If I have to take the brunt of it every now and again, I will.”
Another fan experience had Huey in tears; a visit from a six year old blind girl named Cora Baisden touched Huey immensely.
“YOU GUYS. I’m CRYING. After the Saturday matinee, there was a talkback that not many people had known about and few had signed up for — so I decided to do it. I am SO glad I did. After the talkback, I was walking up the aisle to leave the theater and get some much needed food when I was introduced to Miss Cora. I was a puddle. She is a beautiful, curious, polite, lover of mermaids six year old – who also happens to be blind. I got down on my knees and wanted to talk to her forever. She was the SWEETEST little girl. I had her feel my eyelashes from the show which I still had on – and she curiously felt my street clothes and asked where my mermaid tail was. The amazing Orpheum Theatre here in Memphis had an audio description in her ear so that she could “watch” the show just like every six year old should be able to. According to her mother, she loved every bit of it and laughed and saw just as much magic as any kid should. I will NEVER forget this experience and am so glad that Justin happened to see this and pass it along to me! As an actor, it’s so humbling and incredible to have those experiences when you are reminded that your job IS IMPORTANT. That you are given the opportunity to make magic a reality in the world – and to get to do that for the kids is EVERYTHING to me. I am forever changed from meeting sweet Cora and I am so grateful. Be the change you want to see in this world and make it a better place.
The production will be playing at Shea’s Performing Arts Center from August 15 to August 20.