Over the weekend Disney announced the principal cast of Guy Ritchie’s live-action Aladdin at D23, the studio’s own fan expo in Anaheim, California. Egypt-born actor Mena Massoud will take on the titular role of the charming street hustler, while Power Rangers star Naomi Scott will play Jasmine. And Will Smith will lend his comedic (and musical) talents to the beloved role of Genie.
However, the casting immediately drew ire from some fans, many of them upset with Scott, an actress of British-Indian descent, being cast to play Jasmine, an Arab princess. While there’s no doubt Hollywood still has a long way to go when it comes to representation, Aladdin is an especially prickly case, largely because the setting itself is so nebulous.
Like the song says, it’s quite literally a whole new world, one that historically has had a multitude of cultural influences. In fact, the original myth of Aladdin, as written in One Thousand And One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian folktales, is set in China.
According to Walt Disney Studios production president Sean Bailey, Ritchie’s musical spin on Aladdin will be influenced by both the 1992 animated film and the original folktale, “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp,” from One Thousand And One Nights. As for the fictional city of Agrabah, the multicultural setting will draw from global influences, including the “Middle East, India, and China,” which is in line with the story’s cultural origins.
So, no, Aladdin won’t be a shot-for-shot remake of the animated film — and that’s a good thing. It makes for a far richer story. Plus, Disney can’t get away with calling other cultures “barbaric” anymore. (They couldn’t get away with it in 1992 either.) Nor should they.
Aladdin is scheduled to begin shooting in London next month, with a 2019 release planned.