Aladdin or Aladon't?

 

Aladdin or Aladont?

Published: Mon 17 Jul 2017, 12:59 PM

Last updated: Wed 19 Jul 2017, 5:54 PM

Most of you who read this column on a regular basis know my feelings on whitewashing in Hollywood. I can't really imagine anyone having any thing but one opinion on the matter but anyway . . . when it was announced that Disney's Aladdin (I have also written about my somewhat tumultuous relationship with that classic Disney film) was getting the live action treatment I was intrigued to see that Guy Ritchie was set to direct and was pleased that there was a call for actors of Middle Eastern ethnicity to audition.

Obviously, the Internet was abuzz with hundreds of suggestions for actors to play the coveted roles of Aladdin and Jasmine. And though there were some arguments out there on whether it was "right" to have south Asian actors play the lead role (Dev Patel or Riz Ahmed for Aladdin and Priyanka Chopra as Jasmine) I once again found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The original Aladdin story is a tale that was featured in the epic 1000 and One Nights which is a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. And the story of Aladdin, originally, is in fact set in 'one of the cities of China' with what we understand as Chinese characters. Fact.

In saying that, stories have a way of developing, growing and becoming a thing of their own. Aladdin has since been adapted in many forms (much before the 1992 Disney film) and has often been set within a fictional "Arabian" world with Arab characters. Now, the issue that many people had with the 1992 Disney film was the vilified, stereotypical and narrow minded views of Arabs that were depicted throughout the film. Many view this new live remake of the Disney classic as a way to make amends for that.
Agrabah is the fictional city invented by Disney of where Aladdin lives. It gives the impression of a city (not too different from Dubai) where a number of different races and classes from across the Middle East live and interact with one another and so to me, Aladdin being of South Asian decent wasn't particularly problematic. I just didn't want him to be played by a white actor.

So, when it was announced that Egyptian Canadian actor Mena Massoud was announced to play Aladdin I was thrilled. Then there was the random pick for Princess Jasmine, Naomi Scott, who is of Gujarati-Indian descent from her mother's side. I don't understand how that works but OK. Then it was announced that Will Smith is set to play the role of the Genie. I personally would have preferred Jamie Fox who is funnier and more authentic than Smith and would be better suited to fill in the shoes of the great Robin Williams.
To my surprise, the most interesting and important casting in the film hasn't been announced yet: Jaffar. The villain is by far one of my most favourite villains from the Disney world and I was curious to see which actor they were planning to cast. After doing a little research I read a rumour that Tom Hardy was being considered. At this point, this is a rumour and I'm choosing not to lose my cool. Hardy is a great actor, in fact he's one of my favourite actors, but Jaffar he is not. In any case, I will be having another rant or expressing my relief once they announce who will play Jaffar - the character that I think will be the real star of this live remake.

By Maan Jalal
 maan@khaleejtimes.com

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