The early part of this week has been abuzz with an air of controversy with regards to upcoming film projects by Disney, in particular future live-action adaptations of its canon of animated films. The next movie – rather, movies – in this vein are set to premiere in 2019, one after another.
Aside from The Lion King, there’s also Aladdin, based on the original 1992 film featuring the late Robin Williams as the iconic Disney character the Genie. This live-action remake is flowing with the predominant wave of ethnic accuracy and political correctness as much as possible, but some complaints still emerge.
Disney’s original animation set the story of Aladdin in the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah, with an implied Arab population. Casting has done well to pick Egyptian-Canadian Mena Massoud for the lead role, but critics point out African-American Will Smith as the Genie and Indian-British Naomi Scott as Jasmine.
Even worse, a production crew-member revealed how Disney has been employing white extras and stunt actors made up with brown skin tones, implying that the studio wasn’t going out of its way to take on people of the right ethnicity. This exposé has riled up detractors due to “cultural insensitivity.”
While Aladdin’s director Guy Ritchie has declined to respond to the latest round of criticism over the production, Disney itself issued an official statement explaining that the “brown-facing” was only being done to “help crew members with specific skills” blend into the background when filming scenes with large crowds involved.
The Disney statement adds, “Great care was taken to put together one of the largest, most diverse casts ever seen on screen.” Some quarters however aren’t mollified, like Indian-American actor-producer Kal “Kumar” Penn who opined that the studio simply didn’t want to spend too much money getting ethnically-correct background specialists.
I love @Disney so much. But when a PR person says they decided to put 100 people in Brownface in 2018 because not enough of us are qualified, that’s bs, someone just didn’t want to spend the $ to do it right. Let’s all expect more & do better this year.https://t.co/MzZJp6jvPB
— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) January 7, 2018
But Aladdin cast members have also joined the defense of the film. Iranian-American actor Navid Negahban, who plays the Sultan, doesn’t see the making up of white background people into Middle-Eastern as an “insult to the industry” like detractors claim it is. “You will definitely love the film,” he insists.
The live-action Aladdin will premiere in March of 2019, with The Lion King following months later, in July. In addition to Massoud, Scott, Smith and Negahban, Caucasian actor Billy Magnussen also has an unspecified role, an addition absent from the 1992 original movie.