This week, The Hollywood Reporter reported that the live-action Aladdin film is struggling to find a lead of Middle-Eastern or Indian descent who can sing and dance. They also reported that Riz Ahmed and Dev Patel were both considered for the role of Aladdin, while British-Indian Power Rangers star Naomi Scott and Indian actress Tara Sutaria were both being considered for the role of Jasmine.
There are many problems to unpack here, so let me start with the first: Aladdin is a fictional movie about Arabs. The theme song is “Arabian Nights.” The names of the two leads — Jasmine and Aladdin — are Arabic names. The movie is set in the fictional Middle-Eastern city of Agrabah. The movie itself is based on “Aladdin,” a story from One Thousand and One Nights, the collection of tales originally written in Arabic that is commonly referred to in English as The Arabian Nights. Do you see a theme here?
The four actors listed above, who are in contention for the leading roles, are all of South-Asian descent. South Asia and the Middle East are two very different places. Combining the two groups as one is not only racist but geographically and historically incorrect. And for what it’s worth, if you can’t name a single Arab actor, that means Hollywood as a whole has a problem on its hands. We are finally given a chance to include a group of people who have almost no visibility in film and ignoring it.
According to THR, one agent with a client who auditioned said: “The test process was a mess.” And TBH, I’m not surprised. Twitter is doing a better job of casting Arab actors than the casting crew of Aladdin. IMDB even has a list of Arab actors in Hollywood, for crying out loud, so maybe the casting directors should take a quick glance at that listicle before giving up. It can’t be easy to cast a Middle-Eastern actor as a terrorist but difficult to cast the same people in a leading role. Or is this all a ploy to whitewash the characters?
Hollywood having a hard time casting an Arab actor for Aladdin when they have no problem finding middle eastern actors to play terrorists pic.twitter.com/SpFrSKlHVS
— • (@loveorIeaveme) July 11, 2017
I propose a test: If you want to play the role of Aladdin, you should know how to properly pronounce “Aladdin” in Arabic. Additionally, if you’re casting the role of Aladdin, you absolutely NEED to know the geographical difference between the Middle East and South Asia — and actually care to seek out actors from the former, too.
Read more stories on racism in the film industry:
- Meghan Markle Reveals What It’s Like to Be a Biracial Woman in Hollywood
- 41 Women of Color Get REAL About Beauty and Diversity
- I’m an Indian-American Model, and I Won’t Apologize for That
Now, watch Halima Aden show young Muslim girls how to model: