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Jul 20 2017
by Gauri Mangala

Why We Need to Represent Aladdin Correctly, From A Brown Woman

By Gauri Mangala - Jul 20 2017

After what seemed to have been a war in and of itself to get the live action portrayal of Mulan to have an entirely Asian cast, Hollywood has done it again.

Apparently it was impossible to find an Aladdin that fits the bill. Yeah, right.

After another Twitter storm, Disney finally cast Mena Massoud, an Egyptian, as Aladdin. Fabulous! Brilliant! Fantastic! So the question is: It wasn't so hard after all, was it? 

Now I'm not trying to dispute the difficulty of a casting director's job. I'm sure that it was hard to find someone who could lead such a dynamic and powerful role that has been part of so many childhoods. I understand that Guy Ritchie, the director of the live action film, wants to do it justice. But when you say that casting an ethnically accurate actor for the role is a hardship, it's a slap in the face to anyone of color. People have been spamming director Guy Ritchie and Disney with actors that they thought would be perfect for the role and fit the bill of the ethnicity. I'm not going to put in my two cents on that because I am not a casting director, therefore do not know what makes an actor good for a role, and many of the suggested people were also not Middle Eastern, they were just brown. 

While on the subject, let's talk about what being brown means. I, myself, am 100 percent Indian, meaning that even though I am the same color as Jasmine, and I may eat similar foods as Jasmine, I can not appropriately portray Jasmine. Ever. Avan Jogia could not portray Aladdin, he is Desi. Dev Patel could not portray Aladdin, he is Indian. Even still, while I am glad that Disney and Guy Ritchie cast Massoud for Aladdin, I am not going to thank them for not selecting someone white. That's like giving a child a lollipop for not biting anyone. 

Of course, while Disney did get Aladdin correct, they did not cast a Jasmine that I can get behind. Naomi Scott has been selected for the role of Jasmine. Naomi Scott, who is half-white, half-Indian — as in not Middle Eastern. As in not having been raised by Middle Eastern cultural practices. As in just being selected for being brown. As in being looped in with every other cappuccino shade of person.

Now, people may say, "At least they're the right color." No. Aladdin being cast correctly will not make up for Jake Gyllenhaal portraying the Prince of Persia. For Elizabeth Taylor portraying Cleopatra. For John Wayne portraying Genghis Khan.

It won't make up for the incorrect portrayals of us that permeate throughout the entertainment industry everyday. For every white main character, there is a sassy black friend and foreign, confused brown friend. Why? Why can't the black friend be foreign? Why can't the brown friend have an American accent? Hell, why can't people of color be the main character without it being a gimmick?

I am going to say this once: People of color are NOT a gimmick.

We are not a prop. We are not Apu from The Simpsons or the one black friend in every Super Bowl commercial. We are not a tool in portraying that white people are not inherently racist.

We are culture. We are the spice of life. We are different. We are our stories and our histories. WE are Cleopatra and Mulan. WE are Aladdin. Whitewashing us does not just remove the authenticity behind their stories, it removes the spice, the culture, the history.

So no, I am not going to thank you, Disney. I am not going to thank you for correctly portraying our histories on the big screen. Not until creating authentic stories is not a hardship, but a necessity.

Lead Image Credit: Disney

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Gauri Mangala - Gettysburg College

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