Peter Swords King, the makeup artist for Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid, is ‘offended’ over criticism that a queer person should have been hired instead.
Led by Halle Bailey as Ariel, the film also stars Melissa McCarthy as the iconic sea-witch Ursula, whose aesthetic – including her eye makeup, jewelery and body type – was inspired by the late drag queen Divine.
In a piece for GAY TIMES, Gabriella Geisinger wrote: “Ursula performs femininity the way a drag performer does. She accentuates stereotypically feminine assets — her hips, her lips — and drapes her eels Flotsam and Jetsam around her like an underwater feather boa.”
As a result of Divine’s drag origins, several drag artists have openly criticised the film for not hiring a queer makeup artist.
In response to a video of McCarthy transforming into Ursula, Drag Race alum Kerri Colby opined: “Absolutely why we should hire up and coming queer artists with a pulse on the present and a vision for the future more often.”
Drag Race Down Under star Art Simone also tweeted: “When you lie on your resume and end up with the job.”
In an interview with Insider, King admitted that he didn’t “draw” on outside influences, such as Ursula in the original animated version or Divine’s signature aesthetic.
“No, no. It was me. I didn’t really draw on anything. I played around quite a lot with different colors, different shapes, and stuff,” he said. “It just was sort of Melissa and I talking and creating. So I didn’t really draw on anything at all,” he said.
King, who won an Academy Award for Best Makeup for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, added of the criticism: “I find that very offensive.
“Why can’t I do as good a job as a queer makeup artist? That’s ridiculous. That’s trying to claim it and that’s fine, if that’s what they wanna do, but don’t put people down because they’re not what they want it to be.
“I personally don’t get it. Yes, I’m very old now, so that’s fine, I get that too, but, you know, a makeup artist or makeup designer could design makeup, they don’t have to have an attachment to the nature of what they’re doing.”
King continued to explain that he and McCarthy “discussed everything”: “I mean, we both laughed about how much we love drag queens and drag makeup and stuff. But it wasn’t based on any drag acts at all.”
Ahead of The Little Mermaid’s release, McCarthy said she “100 percent” looked towards drag queens, such as Divine, for inspiration.
“I’m a huge, huge fan of drag shows and the whole art of it and the entertainment of it. I’ve been going to shows since I was not supposed to be going to shows,” she revealed.
“There’s a drag queen that lives in me. I’m always right on the verge of going full-time with her. To keep the humour and the sadness and the edginess to Ursula is everything I want in a character – and frankly, everything I want in a drag queen.”
Directed by Rob Marshall, The Little Mermaid (2023) has been released to highly positive reviews, with critics unanimously praising Bailey’s performance as Ariel.
Additional cast members include Jonah Hauer-King as Eric, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Noma Dumezweni as Queen Selina, Art Malik as Sir Grimsby, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Jacob Tremblay as Flounder and Awkwafina as Scuttle.
The Little Mermaid is out in cinemas now.