After Lady Gaga proved that, on top of being a creative visionary and technically flawless singer, she's also a compellingly vulnerable actress A Star Is Born, Hollywood is thirstily laying roles at her feet.
According to The DisInsider, it's rumored that Gaga is the first choice to play Ursula in the forthcoming live action adaption of The Little Mermaid.
She would play, not exactly opposite Zendaya (rumored to be cast as Ariel), but below her, leagues beneath the sea cackling about her plans to steal the mer-princess' voice. While it was thrilling to see her stripped down and shy as A Star Is Born's Ally, her little monsters might actually perish if she plays the vintage, bold-lipped fish-fatale villain.
However, Gaga's rumored casting has caused ripples of controversy. First and foremost, because the Disney villainess was actually inspired by drag legend Divine, thanks to Little Shop Of Horrors playwright and lyricist Howard Ashman who pushed the ultimate version of the character. Hazlitt reports:
"The Little Mermaid's directors and animators created several iterations of Ursula. One was a manta ray inspired by Joan Collins. Another was a "beautiful but deadly" scorpion fish, recalled director John Musker. None worked, until an animator named Rob Minkoff drew a vampy overweight matron who everyone agreed looked a lot like Divine."
Divine, real name Glenn Milstead, however, died before he had the chance to bring the part to life — a role those who knew him, including John Waters — said he would have loved to play.
"Ursula is a plum role because as Glenn Milstead, Howard Ashman, John Waters, and generations of queers and drag queens know, being ostracized, fat, and sick can bring its own strength and power" However, Jeffrey Schwarz, a documentarian who chronicled Divine's life, "doesn't think it's strange that Divine, a delightfully filthy drag legend, inspired a children's movie. He thinks, rather, The Little Mermaid is a pretty queer film."
While Gaga is an icon close to the queer community's heart, many fans hoped hoped that a contemporary queen would play Ursula next time the chance came around, especially given how many incredible queens there are in the industry right now.
Racial politics also complicate the casting debate, given that some viewers interpreted Ursula as a Black woman, although she was inspired by a white drag queen. It's sticky to tease out whether this perception is emerging straight from Divine's persona, which is certainly wrapped up in the ongoing conversation about white gay men and drag queens' appropriation of Black culture, directorial influence, audiences' biases, or a little bit of everything.
The film, given its likely casting of Zendaya as Ariel, however, seems to be proposing an inclusive take on the All-American, all-white/fish Disney tale. While Gaga would obviously kill as Ursula, there are other actors whose casting has the potential to speak more to fans and the role's history. Or, if the creators really wanted to scramble up the archaic story and stick it to Disney's white, normative history, here's a proposal:
Photo via BFA