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Racist Backlash Won’t Stop Asian-American Actress From Playing Ariel

Diana Huey is proving Asians can play lead characters too.

08/21/2017 14:42 EDT | Updated 08/21/2017 14:43 EDT

It's 2017 and somehow imagining Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" as an Asian character is completely unbelievable for some.

Diana Huey is the Japanese-American actress who plays the red-haired mermaid in a touring production across the U.S. Since November, Huey has been slaying her performances and received stellar reviews. But despite the positive buzz, some people just can't seem to get over her race.

"When my picture first came out wearing the red wig and the mermaid tail... within the first few minutes there was a very negative comment from someone in the community just like, 'Since when is Ariel Asian? I'm not going to be seeing this anymore, keep it classic' and I was like, oh man, here we go," Huey told WKBW of the first time she received criticism for her role.

Unfortunately, some fans of the original Disney film are not OK with the production casting an Asian-American actress as Ariel instead of a white woman.

A post shared by Diana Huey (@dianahuey) on

While Huey originally brushed off the negative comments, she decided she'd had enough when she noticed racist Facebook comments about her role as she was gearing up to perform at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis earlier this month.

"It's hard not to take it personally," Huey told Buffalo News.

I've often also felt the added pressure of feeling like I have to work even harder to get the audience to like me ... because I'm not what they might have expected to see as an Asian American actor.

Taking the high road, the talented singer shot back at critics with powerful words about why representation matters.

"It's never easy being up on a stage in front of thousands of people everyday baring your soul, pushing through exhaustion and just hoping that they'll like you," Huey wrote in a Facebook post. "For me personally with this show, I've often also felt the added pressure of feeling like I have to work even harder to get the audience to like me or be with me because I'm not what they might have expected to see as an Asian American actor."

Huey revealed that when she auditioned for the role of Ariel, she didn't think she would get it because she's Asian.

"Looking back at that now, that thought makes me so sad," she continued. "No one should feel like they aren't enough because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes or any factor outside of WHO THEY ARE. And as I go out on the road city to city as an Asian American playing Ariel, I hope that it will inspire the next person who is out there auditioning for something to believe that THEY can be cast in a role based on their work and their talents."

Huey has certainly become an inspiration for many Asians, who don't see themselves represented on screen. In Nashville, for instance, Huey recalled when an adoptive mother and her young Asian daughter approached her after the show.

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.

"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,'" the actress told Buffalo News. "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."

On social media, fans have continued to praise Huey not just for her performances, but for her effort to bring the conversation of representation to the forefront.

There's always been a lack of representation in the media, which is why Huey's casting as the iconic mermaid is such a big deal. Previously, whenever people of colour have been cast, their roles have either been small, non-speaking and/or stereotypical.

Thus, this change of pace proves not only that Asians can play lead characters, but they can also achieve great things when given the chance to shine.

A post shared by Diana Huey (@dianahuey) on

This isn't the first time a Disney classic has been revamped to include a diverse cast, either. A 1997 "Cinderella" remake featured an African-American princess (Brandy) and a Filipino-American prince (Paolo Montalban). And to top that all off, Whitney Houston played the fairy godmother.

Unfortunately, some people are still perturbed by the idea of reimagining "classic" characters as different races. The 2015 "James Bond" controversy — when rumours that Idris Elba could play the iconic title character caused huge backlash — is a prime example.

Despite this, people of colour deserve to be in the spotlight too because, as Huey proves, representation really does matter.

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