After highly-publicized rumors that Disney was struggling to cast its live-action Aladdin, Twitter began speculating on and suggesting actors of Middle Eastern descent for Disney to cast. After all, there are more than a few Middle Eastern actors in the world who could play the parts of Aladdin and Jasmine.
Still, Aladdin fans began to worry that Disney would emulate the high-profile mistakes of Ghost in the Shell and Aloha (both films that hired white leads to play other ethnicities) in its casting.
Yesterday, the leads were announced at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, and public reactions seem largely mixed. Disney did manage to find an actor of Middle Eastern descent, Mena Massoud, to play Aladdin.
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Disney did NOT manage to find an actress of Middle Eastern descent to play Jasmine, and instead tapped Naomi Scott, who is of British-Indian descent.
Will Smith has been chosen to play the genie, a decision that has sparked both delight and horror.
Many people are pleased with the casting choices, praising Disney — especially for Massoud’s tapping (they’re not wrong.)
Others cannot help but point out that Naomi Scott is not Middle Eastern, and it shouldn’t be so challenging to find an actress who is.
They make a valid point. Casting anyone who looks to be vaguely “ethnic” to play a Middle Eastern part is not impressive; it encourages the false assumption that various ethnicities and cultures are interchangeable, and that they don’t deserve representation in their own right. Disney needs to make a concerted effort to be inclusive and accurate when telling stories about other cultures, even in the adaptation of a playful animated film.