Rob Marshall, the director of The Little Mermaid, said the film's production team didn't have an "agenda" when casting Halle Bailey as Ariel.
"We just were looking for the best actor for the role, period. The end," Marshall told Entertainment Weekly, noting that the team had "no agenda" during the casting process. "We saw everybody and every ethnicity."
The goal was to find someone who could be "incredibly strong, passionate, beautiful, smart, clever," and exude "a great deal of fire and joy" in the role of Ariel, the director said.
"That voice is something that is so signature and so ethereal and so beautiful that it captures the heart of Eric, and he looks for her for the entire film."
Marshall noted that he "wasn't anticipating" the reaction garnered from the teaser trailer in September showing a Black actress portraying the iconic Disney princess.
"I wasn't anticipating that because, in a way, I felt like we've moved so far past that kind of thing," Marshall said. "But then you realize, in a way we haven't. It was very moving to me to see how important this kind of casting is for the world."
Following the trailer's release, Bailey discussed the importance of onscreen representation.
"The fact that now it's getting to be played by me, a person who looks like me, woman of color, I'm just like, wow, I'm so grateful what it will do for all the other little Black and brown boys and girls who will see themselves in me," Bailey told People. "Because I know if I had seen myself when I was younger, I think my whole perspective would've changed."
The Little Mermaid premieres in theaters on May 26.