Growing up my sisters and I practically watched every Disney production known to mankind. We, to this day, watch every Disney movie, including the recent live action remakes of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. In recent weeks, I came to know that Disney is also planning on making a live action remake of Aladdin. My sisters and I were naturally ecstatic.
Aladdin had always been one of our favorites. So much so that we even played Aladdin with the neighborhood kids and made the roof of a car our magic carpet. The story consisted of everything a kid could love including a comedic genie, a fierce Princess, and a swoon worthy Prince. Perhaps the best part of the movie, Aladdin was the fact that it finally paid homage to some elements of the Muslim world.
When I heard of a remake, I was thrilled. I thought to myself, what a great opportunity to shine some positive light on a part of the world which is under constant scrutiny.
In recent years, not only the Middle East but Muslims all over the world have been ostracized and our culture, criticized. This remake would be a great opportunity to shine a positive light on the Muslim culture. I thought, maybe now people will see that the Muslim civilization is quite beautiful and magical, and so much more than what is being shown on the mainstream news. Maybe now they would see a little bit of the culture that people like me grew up in. I was excited for audiences to be reminded of those beautiful elements again.
When I heard about the casting, I was surprised to hear that Bollywood actors and actresses were being considered for the role. Though I am not middle eastern and generally speaking a Bollywood fan, I didn’t think it was at all appropriate to cast anyone other than someone from the Middle East for this role. It almost felt like a cultural appropriation of sorts.
How could such a large production company think it was okay to use people of color interchangeably? Do they not know that South Asians and people from the Middle East are completely different? In the animated version, the intro song ‘Arabian Nights’, is a big enough hint that the tale is one based in an Arab land; And if you need an even bigger hint then simply pay attention to the names of the characters. Jafar, Aladdin, and Jasmine are all Arab names. I always assumed that choosing an actor with Middle Eastern descent would be the logical choice because naturally, an actor with the appropriate background would be able to lend authenticity to the role and would perhaps even care more about the accurate representation of the story.
This is a great opportunity to shine a light and give some positive exposure to people of Middle Eastern descent. It would be noble of a production company that reaches such a large audience to present the story accurately. It is an opportunity to give someone not in mainstream media a voice to represent not only Middle Eastern people but also the culture that exists on the other side of the world.
Of course, I don’t have much power to change the way things are done, but, I figure that if I use my voice, and even if just one other person reads it then it’s worth it.