As a simple Hollywood rule, if you’re rebooting a movie about white guys, you simply recast them with black dudes or women to meet corporate political goals. Cynical gesturing doesn’t always tank. Remaking Captain America and calling it Wonder Woman did quite well.
With every studio in a race to recycle its wholly owned legacy properties, Disney’s now setting a line of live action versions of their 90’s animated titles. On the creativity scale it’s somewhere between stealing Winnie the Pooh and making movies about Disneyland rides. I worked at Disney. Imagination and risk taking is not their thing. Marketing and LGBTQ fundraisers, there are none better.
Aladdin is the first up and every single ounce of director Guy Ritchie’s attention and studio producer focus is on casting. Not for talent, for ethnic origin. It’s hard to say if Disney is reacting to anticipated multicultural criticism or they are practically advancing a political agenda. The logic circle of social justice warriors is so inane it’s impossible to find the beginning.
Aladdin is tricky as nobody quite knows the origin of the original tale from One Thousand and One Nights which was brought to Western Europe as exotic tales of a generalized Arabia. Sort of like how East Coasters used to read gunslinger tales of the American West in serialized short stories during the 19th century. Aladdin is either of the subcontinent of India or of the Arab peninsula, or anywhere in between. Disney settled finally on a young Egyptian model and actor, Mena Massoud, for the role of Aladdin. Though he’s a Coptic Christian which means no ‘We Got Us A Muslim’ check box.
British actress Naomi Scott was cast as Jasmine. Even before the cultural appropriation train left the station, Disney provided ancestral charts to show her half-Indian origins. Will Smith was cast as the live-action version of genie, because somebody needs to sell the movie, and gay black Scientologist is a multicultural windfall.
Immediately, social media was ablaze with particular geo-cultural callouts of how the Aladdin casting is racist, Islamophobic, and a screw job to whatever line they’d staked out to make themselves sound important. People wondered why they couldn’t merely cast an entirely Arab Muslim speaking cast, for a massively authentic Aladdin that would lose around two hundred million dollars.
Eventually the righteous settled on the fact that Aladdin is an inherently racist composite story and Disney is an imperialist fascist plantation owner. The latter isn’t far from the truth. Though the Aladdin story slam seems unnecessarily gratuitous.
The sum total of this nitwit debate is a reminder that seeking to please people who don’t wish to be pleased is a purposeless pursuit. Like throwing a piece of meat to a hungry pack of wolves who have you surrounded in hopes it will cast you in a merciful hue. You clearly don’t understand wolves. Or the perpetually outraged who walk among us.
You deserve every ounce of shit you receive for playing their game. Guy Ritchie’s weed guy must be experiencing a huge uptick.
Photo credit: Getty Images / Disney