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Addition of new, white character to “Aladdin” reboot symptomatic of Hollywood’s diversity problem

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Production has officially begun for Disney’s “Aladdin” and the addition of a new character has just been announced. American actor Billy Magnussen, 32, will now join the live-action cast as an original character not portrayed in the 1992 animated film. The role of Prince Anders, a Norwegian royal, was created solely for the movie musical and is considered as a potential husband for Princess Jasmine. This spurred audiences’ concerns about how much the new character plays a bigger role in Hollywood’s “whitewashing” industry.

Could the addition of Prince Anders be a rendition of the character Prince Achmed? Achmed was an Arab prince and possible suitor for Princess Jasmine in the original animated film.

The set of the film is the fictional Arabian city of Agrabah (Agrabah is an anagram of Baghdad) and is generally assumed to be in the Middle East, which we assume because of the opening number “Arabian Nights.”

The film had already received backlash as they struggled to find Middle-Eastern leads. In March, director Guy Richie sent out a global casting call in search for actors to play Aladdin and Jasmine. The film’s producers particularly wanted actors of Middle-Eastern or Indian descent for the lead roles; thus, major controversy was spread in regard to the casting of Naomi Scott, 24, of British and Gujarati descent, for the role of Princess Jasmine. While Scott is half-Indian, the role of Jasmine should be played by an Arab woman. Scott’s casting only proves the concept that South Asian and Middle Eastern people are interchangeable in the film industry.

Though the film did find its inspiration from both Indian and Middle-Eastern culture, Disney made their first mistake in making the races interchangeable in the original animation. Nonetheless, the 1992 animated film featured mainly an all white cast, a missed opportunity for Middle-Eastern actors and manufacturing a less authentic version of the original story from “The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.” Last but not least, Princess Jasmine’s physical appearance includes dark brown skin, whereas Scott has pale skin. Why can’t producers ever cast dark-skinned women?

But the real question remains: if the original story of Aladdin did not include any white characters, such as Magnussen, why is the live-action movie casting them? The original story the movie was based on, “Aladdin and The Magic Lamp,” has zero white characters. Director Ritchie has previously calmed audiences’ concerns about the film staying true to the 1992 hit. Yet in June, Ritchie himself had expressed interest in casting British actor Tom Hardy as Jafar. Undoubtedly, the casting of a white guy in a movie full of people of color definitely seems racially insensitive. Skeptics may add that the addition of a Caucasian actor will complete a range of diversity in the cast in order to fully represent all cultures, aka appeal to a white audience. But what is a white guy doing in the Middle East? The movie needs shades of brown. That is what America looks like today and truly the extra character is not necessary.  

Hollywood has a habit of mainly casting Caucasians in major movie roles. Even when, miraculously, there are diverse roles for people of color, white actors are cast instead. Just last month, American actor Ed Skrein dropped out of the “Hellboy” film series after receiving major backlash surrounding his role as Major Ben Damio, of Asian descent. Other Hollywood stars, like Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost In The Shell” and Tilda Swinton in “Doctor Strange,” have also received backlash for accepting whitewashing roles. Will Magnussen step down from his role? Probably not.

Representation matters. Once again, Hollywood fails to mirror what our nation looks like today on the big screens, focusing on their most important color: green. Whitewashing roles is a clear case of omnipresent racism, displaying that minorities simply aren’t good enough to play the roles they born to do so.

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Addition of new, white character to “Aladdin” reboot symptomatic of Hollywood’s diversity problem