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Why Lady Gaga’s Rumoured Role As Ursula Is Causing Controversy

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If Disney can create a half-woman half-octopus, would it be that strange to cast a black woman as her?

While riding the high waves of praise following her turn in A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga is slated for another Hollywood role - that of Ursula, the sea witch from The Little Mermaid. A live-action remake of the 1989 cartoon film is in the works, and it’s mooted that director Rob Marshall, who is helming the upcoming remake of Mary Poppins, has been drafted in to direct the The Little Mermaid remake next.

And, according to the Disinsider, Gaga is set to play Ursula. The Disney-focused news site has been very careful to clarify that Gaga is only rumoured, not confirmed, to be in the running for the role, but the site knows enough to know that production of the film is set to be in Puerto Rico and Cape Town. The role of Ariel (who, did you know, as a cartoon, was based, facially, on a young Alyssa Milano?) is set to go to Zendaya, a longtime Disney stalwart.

Now, not everyone is happy about Gaga’s rumored casting. Quite clearly, the Ursula we know and love and loathe from The Little Mermaid is Disney’s first fat villain since Alice and Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts, and Gaga isn’t fat. She’s also a lot older than Ariel, and Gaga’s only 10 years Zendaya’s senior. Will Gaga be able to put on all the weight required (tbt to when Ryan Gosling gained loads of weight for a role that eventually went to stacked muscleman Mark Wahlberg), or will she wear a fatsuit? Will she be so different from the Gaga we know and love that the point of her casting is just for her (incredible) voice?

Getting to the root of who Ursula is, well, she was voiced by Pat Carroll (after Joan Collins turned the role down) and facially, she’s based on (male) drag queen Divine. Both Carroll and Divine are/were white, which has been pointed out in narrow-minded arguments over Gaga’s casting in response to claims that Ursula is black. In the film, the seductive-evil-queer sea witch is purple, so it should be a given that she can be played by any woman of any ethnicity right? When casting for a fantasy film, where a half-woman half-octopus is A Thing, why shouldn’t the possibility of casting a black woman be considered? Is it really so out of the question that a film featuring a talking crab (who we hope, this time, is actually played by a Caribbean guy if he’s meant to be a Caribbean guy) could have a fat black woman as its villain?

After all, Ursula has been played in Once Upon A Time by three black women: Yvette Nicole Brown, Merrin Dungey and Tiffany Boone. And in Descendants 2, she’s voiced by Whoopi Goldberg! Wouldn’t Ursula’s legacy as a black woman be wonderfully fulfilled by, say, Monique - who wowed us all as the menacing mother in Precious?

Plus, though the original Hans Christian Andersen story is set in Denmark, the 1989 cartoon is set in the Caribbean, which is far more ethnically diverse. And Puerto Rico and Cape Town have similarly varied demographics. Finally, if this is a Maleficent-style feminist re-telling of the classic story through the villain’s eyes, maybe Ursula’s fatness and blackness - both maligned by the western beauty standards which uphold thin, white women like Gaga as the ideal, could play a part in why she’s so desperate to steal younger, thinner, whiter women’s bodies