Disney reportedly struggled to fill its male lead for Aladdin last summer. Perhaps it was all a clever marketing ploy to get the public invested, perhaps they wanted kudos for not immediately casting a white guy instead, but eventually, the role went to Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud. Now, what to do about the rest of the cast?
The Sunday Times interviewed actor Kaushal Odedra, who worked as a stand-in for Massoud and an extra in other scenes. Odedra says that while on set, he witnessed a line of about 20 white people waiting to getting “tanned” to play extras or bit parts in the film. He was disturbed by it, but when he brought it up with other extras, he was told it was pretty normal:
“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.
“Also, if I’d wanted to discuss it, speaking to the almost entirely white crew seemed somewhat intimidating.”
Guy Ritchie declined to comment, but a woman named Laura Sheppard whose agency, Casting Collective, provided extras, confirmed it isn’t an unusual practice.
“If we don’t have enough people of a particular ethnic group on our books, we will source people from the required group,” said Sheppard.
Look, this is a mess, especially in a situation where casting directors complained they didn’t have actors with the talent necessary to fill the roles. The people who want to break into the industry are out there, and they can’t even get access to playing the palace guard? But this interview also brought it to my attention that they created an entirely new, white character for the film, Prince Anders, played by Billy Magnusson. What the hell?
Vanity Fair reported on this in September, saying that the character is “a suitor from Skanland and potential husband for Princess Jasmine.” We now have a fake Scandinavian-sounding country just to add some whiteness to a film that at the very least promised visibility for actors of color. Now I’m going to have to watch some rando white Poochie have a sing-off with the magic carpet or something? I am afraid of this film. Here is Disney’s statement on the matter:
“This is the most diverse cast ever assembled for a Disney live action production. More than 400 of the 500 background performers were Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean and Asian.”