Like most Broadway musical leads, Diana Huey is a multi-talented performer, who can sing, dance, and act—all in front of a live audience. But during a national tour of Disney's The Little Mermaid, in which she portrays Ariel, the star faced discriminatory comments and racism that she did not expect.
You see, Huey is Asian. (To be more precise, she is of Japanese-American heritage.) But that one, very external, discrepancy from the Ariel in the 1989 animated Disney classic led to heart-wrenching experiences for the actress as she traveled the country this year.
Huey, who hails from Washington State, shared the story with the Buffalo News's Colin Dabkowski in an article published on Saturday and further explained the background in a heartfelt post on Facebook.
Ahead of a performance at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tenn., earlier this summer, Huey recalled looking at Facebook and discovering comments that criticized her casting because they expected a white actress rather than an Asian American one in the title role. (Just to be extra clear: Ariel is a mermaid. As in a fictional, mythological creature. As in half fish—an entirely separate class of animal from her mammalian human half. So any discussion about her ethnic makeup really should start with those fish genes.)
"It's hard not to take it personally," Huey told the 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."
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Outspoken support from director Glenn Casale—who cast Huey because she "was a good actress, she was the right age, she sings it like nobody else"—has helped. He noted: "We probably saw 50 Ariels, and Diana really sang it the best."
In her Facebook post, Huey got real about the additional feelings of vulnerability that come with being judged by your race:
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. When you are in a show, much less as a pinnacle character of it, there's a huge fear that if the audience doesn't like you or isn't with you, that you are doing them a disservice or ruining the show for them. 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.
Even her personal outlook changed:
When I auditioned for Mermaid, I was just excited to get to sing 'Part of Your World' with a live accompanist—I didn't think I had a real chance in booking it because I'm Asian. Looking back at that now, that thought makes me so sad. 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.
Inspired by her strength and heartfelt message, fans shared supportive messages on Facebook:
Huey also shared her positive attitude toward future generations of aspiring Broadway stars and eliminating discrimination around the country:
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. I want to believe in a world where racism and bigotry no longer exists. I want to believe that we can truly have equality in this world—and the arts are a damn good place to start.
Read her full post here and listen to her perform "Part of Your World" below.
Click here to see if you can snag tickets to The Little Mermaid with Huey near you.