Grammy and Academy Award-winning singer-songwriter H.E.R. has been cast as the Disney princess, ABC has announced. This marks the first time an Afro Filipina woman will play the role of Belle on screens. (Paige O’Hara voiced the character in the 1991 animated film, and Emma Watson played the role in the 2017 live-action version.) In the one-night-only celebration, the acclaimed R&B singer will lead audiences through the world of Belle with never-before-seen musical performances celebrating and paying homage to the beloved tale.
The two-hour reimagining is presented by The Wonderful World of Disney and will be taped in front of a live audience at Disney Studios before airing on Thursday, December 15 at 8/7c on ABC (and will stream on Disney+ the next day). Jon M. Chu will executive produce the special, with Hamish Hamilton set to direct. Additional casting — their performances will be seamlessly woven through the original feature film — will be announced at a later date.
“I can’t believe I get to be a part of the Beauty and the Beast legacy. The world will see a Black and Filipino Belle!” said H.E.R., who will also serve as a producer, in a statement “I have always wanted to be a Disney princess, and I get to work with two wonderful directors Hamish Hamilton and my favorite, Jon M. Chu. It is very surreal and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Added Chu, “with her obvious extraordinary talent and stage presence, H.E.R. is the perfect embodiment of our Belle and we are thrilled for audiences to see her in this celebration of creativity. We were both influenced as storytellers by the original animated movie, so it’s very exciting to collaborate together to honor the artistry of that timeless classic while also inspiring a whole new generation of creators.”
H.E.R. has been nominated for 21 Grammys and won five. She has also won an Oscar and was nominated for a Golden Globe. She will make her acting debut in the Warner Bros. adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical The Color Purple.
This upcoming ABC special comes the same year as the 30th anniversary of Disney Animation’s Beauty and the Beast becoming the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Its theme song, “Beauty and the Beast,” did win the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1992, while the film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration is produced by Done+Dusted in association with Walt Disney Television Alternative and Electric Somewhere. Joining Chu and Hamilton as executive producers are Caitlin Foito, Raj Kapoor, Richard Kraft and Katy Mullan.
Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration, Special Premiere, Thursday, December 15, 8/7c, ABC