Will new Disney Aladdin film finally cast Arab actors?

Will new Disney Aladdin film finally cast Arab actors?
2 min read
10 March, 2017
Hollywood has faced a recent backlash from critics and fans alike for a tendency to "white wash" when casting major productions. Will guy Ritchie's upcoming Aladdin remake buck the trend?
The 1992 animated film Aladdin was notably short of Arab voice-over actors [AFP]

On Thursday a casting call began circulating on the internet for a new Disney production of fans favourite Aladdin, set to be directed by Guy Ritchie, of Lockstock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) fame.

Rehearsals are scheduled for April, with shooting set to begin in July, according to reports.

Hollywood, in recent times, has been plagued by accusations of "white washing", notably in relation to the casting of Matt Damon in The Great Wall, and Scarlet Johannson in Ghost in the Shell.

Films related to the Middle East are no exception to this rule. To name a few examples: Rudolph Valentino, an Italian-born American actor, played the titular character in The Son of the Sheik (1926), Alec Guiness was cast as Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Elizabeth Taylor famously played Cleopatra (1963).

In more recent times Jake Gyllenhall played a Persian prince in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Christian Bale played Moses in Exodus: God and Kings (2014), and in one instance of peculiar casting Indian actress Freida Pinto was cast as the Palestinian protagonist in coming of age film Miral (2010).

Last year Disney fans notably started a petition calling for an appropriate actor to be cast as the Chinese heroine in an upcoming remake of Mulan in order to "take a stand against whitewashing in the media".

Those worried that such a process could take place with the Ritchie directed remake of Aladdin may somewhat be put at ease by a message on the purported casting call specifying that "these characters are Middle Eastern" (although some have argued that Aladdin at least in early versions of the 1001 Nights favourite is in fact Chinese).

The original animated film Aladdin came out in 1992, won Oscars for best score and best song (A Whole New World), and was the highest grossing film that year. It was, however, notably short of Arab names in leading voice-over roles and was criticised for its negative portrayal of Arabs.

This time round, it appears a change may be in the air.