Here are 3 reasons why Guy Ritchie, director of King Arthur, Man from UNCLE, and Sherlock Holmes, should not direct the live-action Aladdin. The film is casting right now, but I feel that it is still early enough in the production to course-correct. The dismal response for King Arthur and the recent outcries for diversity behind the camera might encourage Disney to rethink.
- Guy Ritchie is not of Middle Eastern descent. He is not of South Asian descent. He is not from any region or culture that is tied in anyway to the Middle East or South Asia. Aladdin is one of the very few animated films that have represented the Middle East and South Asia. It is a film where the person at the helm should have a some connection to the material, and to the world. The best Ritchie can do is imitate the animated film, and hire a few folks to help represent Agrabah in a respectful manner. But why cannot a man or woman of ME/SA do that? All of the live action adapted films from Disney have been directed by white males; Tim Burton made Alice in Wonderland, Robert Stromberg made Maleficent, Kenneth Branagh made Cinderella, Jon Favreau made Jungle Book and is set to direct The Lion King, and Bill Condon made Beauty and the Beast. You would think that Aladdin is the appropriate time to change up who is behind the camera. The end of the article will have a list of directors I think should helm the project.
- Guy Ritchie’s films have a very distinct style and aesthetic. He is perfect fit for Treasure Planet or Robin Hood, films with male centric leads. Those animated films fit well with his rough-and-tumble streetwise hoodlum type movies. On paper Ritchie seems to be a fit with the Aladdin character, but the story as a whole is nothing Ritchie is capable of doing. He has not proven he is capable of directing a compelling romance. He has not proven to be able to direct compelling women who are more than just props for the male characters. He has not proven he is capable of having emotional depth in his films. He is good with spectacle and innovative camera work, but he is not a fit with Aladdin. Nothing in his filmography suggests he is capable of creating a fully realized, vibrant, romantic, thrilling fairy-tale. He should just resign now, and ask to direct Treasure Planet. Honestly, the best film for him to adapt.
- This connects back to my first point. Guy Ritchie and writer John August (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) don’t seem like the men who can unravel the complicated depiction of Arabia from the animated film. Infamously, Aladdin borrowed from a range of Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, clothing, and architectures. This was okay in the 90’s when this region of the world was a mystery to white audiences. And it was an animated film, so who really cared, it’s a just fairy-tale, right?! Well, this is 2017. This is not a safe time for films that think they can get away with depicting this region as a monolithic society. With a ME/SA director at the helm or writing they could depict this fictional Agrabah with care, nuance and respect. It is important to have people who are familiar with this world be in the filmmaking process, or you will have a bunch of white dudes yet again telling a story and depicting people they know nothing about. Disney, you are on a roll don’t torpedo your success with this. Twitter can take down just about anything these days don’t be their next target. Have Ritchie resign, hire someone new and have someone appropriate look over the script!
Here is a list of the top five directors I think should helm Aladdin.
Mira Nair: Indian-American director who has already directed a film for Disney, Queen Of Katwe. Her filmography shows she is capable of directing romance, poverty, discrimination, societal and cultural differences. Most importantly she has a successful career with critically acclaimed films. She is in my opinion a perfect candidate to bring us a straightforward adaptation of Aladdin. She of course can develop some of the ideas presented in the animated film like class issues, poverty and privilege, an important part in the Aladdin & Jasmine relationship. She is also very successful in directing compelling women. Although the film is called Aladdin, Jasmine is his equal and should be just as developed and fully realized as her male counterpart.
Nadine Labaki: She is a very successful Lebanese actress and director. I think she is a good choice to bring cultural sensitivity to the project. Her films are about love, sexuality, tradition, and everyday troubles, but she approaches them with a humour manner. She has yet to direct a film as big as Aladdin, but Niki Caro who is helming Mulan, and Ava DuVernay who has completed A Wrinkle in Time, have never directed such big budget blockbuster projects before. I believe Labaki has the talent to create a rather compelling and pleasant film with a fair amount of social commentary. Her films also prove she is very good with using music as a storytelling devise, a skill she picked up from directing music videos.
S. Rajamouli: An Indian director who primarily works in Telugu cinema. He is a director that has created some truly spectacular fantasy films. He most certainly can take all the amazing fantasy aspects of Aladdin and crank it up to an 11. Watch any of his films and you can just see how amazing Aladdin can be under his leadership. Also his last two films Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The Conclusion are the highest grossing Indian films, ever. Disney is the studio that loves money. Makes sense to hire this man.
Haifaa al-Mansour: First female Saudi filmmaker. She has two-feature film under her belt, other filmmakers have been handed big projects with less. She directed the critical darling Wadjda, and the upcoming Mary Shelley. Aladdin is as much Jasmine’s film as it is Aladdin’s. A woman director at the helm might ensure Jasmine gets the best depiction possible. She is a complicated character that must deal with serious matters, which is reflected in all the works of all the women I suggest.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali: An Indian film director who has many critically successful musicals in his filmography. We know that Aladdin will be a musical, anyone who suggests otherwise clearly does not want Aladdin to succeed. Bollywood directors are far more suited for Aladdin because the industry as a whole embraces musicals and have the best musical numbers in the history of cinema. If Disney wants Aladdin to just be a spectacle with little depth and plenty of musical numbers like Beauty and the Beast, Bhansali can provide that. An Aladdin film by Bhansali will be a beauty to behold.