Is a Live Action Aladdin Movie a Good Idea?

OPINION PIECE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Her Campus Agnes Scott.

The exciting news was announced not too long ago: Disney is making a live-action Aladdin movie! With Jasmine being a favorite of many young girls and women across the globe, as well as being a Middle Eastern princess, the internet blew up with excitement. Not only that, but it also blew up with suggestions of actors to make sure Disney doesn’t whitewash the film. While the sentiment is appreciated from the East as an attempt to be supportive, Dev Patel and Priyanka Chopra, two actors suggested by many people to play the parts of Aladdin and Jasmine, aren’t Middle Eastern. They’re Indian.

The confusion is understandable, though, considering the elements of the original Disney film do strongly consist of both stereotypically Middle Eastern and Indian things; a tiger, women with bindis, belly dancing, a genie, a flying carpet, etc. If it’s “obvious” to many that Aladdin is set in the Middle East, then that is a very clear example of the effect orientalism has on the public and the extremely common meshing of the Middle East and South Asia in the West. Though these two very vast lands share many different cultural aspects, it’s not very clear to children and many adults where the location of Agrabah is.

 

It’s supposed to be Baghdad. Or as you may know it, Iraq.

 

 

Even Disney was clear to specify in its casting call for the live-action remake that “these characters are Middle Eastern.” However, there is a criticism to be made for Disney’s casting call. “Middle Eastern” is a broad spectrum. There are hundreds of white Middle Easterners (according to the Western definitions of race) and it’s not because they immigrated. It’s because they, in fact, do have lighter skin tones. Many of them may be on the paler end of the spectrum and many may be more of an “olive” color or more “naturally tanned” than many Westerners, but they still identify as white. So if Disney is ready to cast a white person to play Jasmine, then their ad is accurate.

 

However, if Disney wants brown actors of Middle Eastern descent because Jasmine and Aladdin do have darker skin tones in the cartoon, then they need to specify that. Nothing is offensive or rude about saying “brown.” What’s offensive and annoying is pretending that white people don’t exist in the Middle East and simply turning away their auditions because of either ignorance of Middle Eastern races or fear of the backlash from the public if someone who is “too light” is hired.

 

And for those thinking about Muslim representation, the tale of Aladdin was created before Islam existed. The stories in Arabian Nights, which most know Aladdin from, were collected from many different countries and only put into the collection of stories around the 8th century. Islam was spread around the 7th century. The country the story of Aladdin originates from is speculated. However, it is known that it has been around for thousands of years along with the rest of the stories in Arabian Nights. It’s more likely that Aladdin and Jasmine believed in multiple Gods. Because Islam is the current majority religion in Iraq, many may want to make Aladdin and Jasmine Muslim. However, it needs to be kept in mind historical accuracy versus representation. One suggestion would be to create a different Disney princess who is, in fact, historically Muslim, (if she is taken from a true figure). Along with this, creating a proper Disney princess from the Middle East and a separate one from India would also be good ideas.

 

There are many assumptions made about the Middle East that are encouraged by not only the news in the West but by our products. Consumers are easily affected and have been easily affected for years by these products. Let’s combat it together.

 

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