With the impending release of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the studio is continuing to mine its animation back catalogue with more live-action adaptations, and a version of Aladdin is already in the works. In a move to avoid accusations of “whitewashing“, the House of Mouse is looking to cast actors of Middle Eastern origin in the lead roles.
Following recent controversy and accusations of whitewashing surrounding the casting of Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange as The Ancient One, and the furore around Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell), Matt Damon (The Great Wall) and many more, the move will be welcomed by campaigners and activists who have called for more diverse representations on screen.
The very white actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton starred in Disney’s adaptation of popular video game Prince of Persia and Oscar-winner Emma Stone was criticised for playing a native Hawaiian in Aloha.
The first line of the casting call states: ‘These characters are Middle Eastern.’ The 1992 animation was set in the fictional land of Agrabah and featured Aladdin, Jasmine and The Genie (Robin Williams). Interestingly the story was going to be set in Iraq, but was moved due to political reasons of the time.
Director Ridley Scott commented on why he cast white actors in the main roles of his biblical epic Exodus, explaining to Variety that: “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
It looks like things have moved on, and the question hasn’t only come up, but been directly addressed.
Will the move be greeted in a similar fashion to the decision of putting in an openly gay character in Beauty and the Beast?