Disney's "Brownface" Scandal in Live Action Aladdin

In 2018, we are living in the most diverse era of cinematic history. With successes in minority representation such as Black Panther and Coco, we, as a society, must be letting go of racial inequality in media right?           

Wrong.

Disney’s upcoming live action Aladdin movie, a film which is supposed to feature middle eastern characters, has been revealed to be engaging in “brownface”. Over 100 Caucasian extras on set have been seen waiting in lines to get their skin darkened, and go on and portray camel handlers and dancers.

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Kaushal Odedra, one time stand in for one of the film’s leads, stated “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.” Director, Guy Ritchie, has declined to comment on the darkening of white actors or on Odedra’s comment. Odedra has allegedly since been fired from the casting agency he worked with.

Disney has stated that white actors were necessary because the same talent could not be found in the middle eastern community. This comment is highly insulting and degrading, as there is much talent in our community, especially in the filming location of London, where a lot of middle easterners live. This comment is especially ridiculous as the background actors needed for the movie included dancers, and who better to do Arab dancing than Arab dancers? Is Disney really trying to convince us that they couldn’t find any Arab dancers for the part, but found white ones?

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Not only is it the background characters that are problematic, the writers are also adding in new lead characters to the Aladdin story which will be played by white actors. One of them is a character named Prince Anders, being played by Billy Magnussen. Because they wouldn’t have gotten away with a white Aladdin actor, this is the next best thing for the filmmakers.

Why do they do this, you might ask. Truthfully, I’m just as perplexed. It might have to do with their delusional thinking that the movie will become more economically successful when it features white actors. But it has been proved time and time again, that this is untrue. Black Panther, Coco, Girls Trip, Get Out, and many others have shown that a diverse and racial minority lead cast kills it at the box office.

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So are Disney and everyone in Hollywood being outwardly racist? Not exactly. I don’t believe that insulting a whole community was their intention, however for them, the greed of showbiz outweighs respect. The truth is that the filmmakers are penny-pinching and unwilling to give the time and money to truly find minorities of talent. Instead they bring in actors already within the industry, a majorly white dominated industry.

How will we ever get accurate representation if the casting searches rarely veer away from the preexisting pool in the industry of predominantly white actors? Disney acts as if they are doing us a huge favor and giving us a gift with this movie, but don’t be suckered in by the promise of representation. I know that Arab/Persian representation on screen is rare, but do not give in to complacency thinking, “Well this is the best we got right now so we should support it.” They can do better. We can do better.