Dear Disney, Please Do Not Mess Up Aladdin
A few months ago I wrote a piece on how I believe Guy Ritchie should not direct Aladdin. In that piece I touched on how the screen writer is also a gentleman not of Middle Eastern descent. I made it clear that Aladdin is a story that has deep roots in the Middle East. I made it clear that those in front of and behind the camera should know and understand the cultural significance of Aladdin.
Will Smith was in talks to play the Genie. Rumours circulated that Tom Hardy will potentially play Jafar (barf). And new rumours indicate Indian actors are being looked at for Aladdin and Jasmine (for the love of God don’t do that). With the representation of Middle Eastern culture on the line, I think it is fair that Disney halt production on Aladdin, and change course.
Let us go on a journey shall we…
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time. One of Disney’s earlier encounters with whitewashing backlash. The film was made on a $150-200 million budget, and only garnered $335 million worldwide. Needless to say it was a flop. Although it was critically panned, it was not a horrible film. What may have turned off audiences was that the cast did not reflect the setting or title of the film. Persia, now known as Iran was no where to be found in the main cast. This film will forever be on every “worst whitewashing” lists.
And that is all we remember of it. No one can recall the cool special effects for the dagger, or the amazing costuming on Gemma Arterton. No one will remember the beautiful landscapes and the sense of adventure. All that anyone will recall is that a white man played a Persian character. This film was dead on arrival, but it could have had a fighting chance with ethnically correct casting.
Disney, I bring you to this moment to remind you that casting is key. The characters of Aladdin should be Middle Easter, not South Asian as rumours have suggested. When you claim to want a diverse cast, remember it should not be at the expense of authentic representation.
It is tempting to cast actors who are not fit for the role, we have seen it from you numerous times. But let me remind you that the internet is powerful thing, or I should say Twitter is. It will not let you forget the mistake you made by hiring Guy Ritchie. It will never let you forget that you robbed Middle Eastern actors and audience representation. If you want a box office success, don’t go down this dark path.
Those who have a special attachment to Aladdin might have forgiven many things from the animated film, broad way show, and the live action adaptations. But this film is gonna be held to a higher standard, and we the audience want it to be perfect. From casting, to directing, to cultural representation, it all has to be perfect. And it can be.
Take a few steps back and reconsider the script, character designs, settings, and the overall representation of Agrabah. Hire people from the Middle East or of Middle Eastern descent so that they may help you respectfully present a Agrabah that is not an just an mishmash of several different countries and cultures.
Take a long look at Guy Ritchie’s filmography, really think long and hard on whether he is a fit for the source material, Let Ritchie go, and offer him a live-action Treasure Planet instead. He is perfect for that.
I suggested 5 directors who were better fit for Aladdin. The article garnered some critique concerning the South Asian directors I suggested. I suggested those three on the bases that they would be respectful of the source material, and have had experience with spectacles. I believe that they would be inclined to present a more honest representation of Aladdin, and I also do not know of any Middle Eastern director who has had experience on big budget films. With the exception of Babak Najaf, director of London Has Fallen.
At the very least Disney should have mandate that makes it clear that Aladdin should be authentic, as authentic as it could possible be.
Disney, do right by the Middle East, represent, respect, and learn from past mistakes.