Disney admits 'darkening' white actors in Aladdin remake

Disney admits 'darkening' white actors in Aladdin remake
3 min read
10 January, 2018
Disney has been accused once again of whitewashing the live-action remake of Aladdin after admitting white actors were "made up to blend in", instead of hiring Middle Eastern extras.
The live-action remake of the 1992 animation has hit controversy during its filming [AFP]
Disney has admitted to "darkening" white actors in the filming of its live-action remake of Aladdin.

The US production company has already been accused of whitewashing the film, after choosing in July to cast non-Arab actor Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine.

And the Guy Ritchie adaptation found itself under fire again in September, after it created an entirely new role to cast a white actor, Billy Magnussen.

Now Disney has admitted to "darkening" the skin of white extras, "for roles requiring skills that could not be readily found in the Asian community" near to the set at studios in Surrey, England.

That included "stunt men, dancers, and camel handlers", Disney said.

The Sunday Times spoke to Kaushal Odedra, a former stand-in for one of the film's leads, who said he saw several white actors had been "heavily tanned to look Middle Eastern," as well as a line of around 20 "very fair-skinned" actors waiting to be "darkened".
Will Smith, playing Genie, with
Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and
Marwan Kenzari [Facebook] 

Odedra brought up the issue with another actor on set, saying: "I asked a Saudi cast member what he made of having these extras being tanned so heavily and he said it's unfortunate, but this is how the industry works, and there's no point complaining about it since it isn't going to change."

Odedra added it seemed "somewhat intimidating" to raise concerns with an "almost entirely white crew".

"Disney [is] sending out a message that your skin colour, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can't be powdered on and washed off," he told The Times.

Although Aladdin is based in the fictional city of Agrabah, it has long been assumed that it is based the Middle East.

Egypt-born Canadian Mena Massoud has been cast as Aladdin, but fans have criticised the filmmakers for not trying hard enough to recruit people from Middle Eastern and Asian backgrounds.

Actor Kal Penn said on Twitter: "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."

Another Twitter user, Jonathon Gray said: "I would not be surprised if idiotic things like this keep happening because penny pinchers don't want to spend the money to do this right or because someone didn't want to do the extra legwork in hiring."

While Samar Ziadat noted: "It's 2018 - how about hire some Arab actors? We deserve better representation than this."

In a statement, Disney defended its casting, noting that Aladdin has "one of the largest most diverse casts ever seen on screen" and that there were only a "handful of instances" where crew were "made up to blend in".

"More than 400 of the 500 background performers were Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean and Asian," it added.