Disney’s latest cartoon-to-live-action movie is in yet another controversy. From the start, the project was heavily criticized because the studio was apparently having a hard time casting an actor of color as its lead. Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud eventually got the role of Aladdin.
Complaints continued when Naomi Scott, a non-Arab actress, was announced as Princess Jasmine.
Following those P.R. scandals, the movie is now being criticized after a Sunday Times interview with Kaushal Odedra, who worked as an extra and stand-in. The actor told the Times that he witnessed about 20 white actors getting in line to get “tanned” for playing extras.
“I asked a Saudi cast member what he made of having these extras being tanned so heavily and he said it’s unfortunate, but this is how the industry works, and there’s no point complaining about it since it isn’t going to change,” he recalled.
“Disney [is] sending out a message that your skin colour, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can’t be powdered on and washed off.”
Disney admits to darkening up the skin of white extras in their live-action Aladdin to make them look Arab. It’s 2018 – how about hire some Arab actors? We deserve better representation than this. https://t.co/m7CM2C8UB9
— Samar Ziadat (@samarziadat) January 9, 2018
However, the people at Disney consider this to be a progressive project when it comes to diversity. According to their statement, “This is the most diverse cast ever assembled for a Disney live action production. More than 400 of the 500 background performers were Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean and Asian.”
Though the movie is due in theaters until May of next year, there are many questions to be asked. A lot of criticism has come from the fact that the studio had a hard time finding qualified Arab actors to play the leads. There’s also a new character from a vaguely Scandinavian country played by Billy Magnussen, when the original story and 1992 movie did not feature white characters.
“Aladdin” is an excellent opportunity to feature actors of color in a positive context, and even the smallest roles could be a chance for young actors to break into the industry. But as always, we’ll have to wait and see.