Aladdin remake: Is Hollywood finally getting the message?

Published March 15th, 2017 - 07:33 GMT
A scene from the beloved Disney film Aladdin. (Bustle)
A scene from the beloved Disney film Aladdin. (Bustle)

This is probably the best news I've heard all year. Before I explain exactly what I'm talking about let me tell you about my absolute obsession with Disney's Aladdin. I've seen it over a hundred times I'd say. Seriously. I know all the songs and dialogue by heart and can even do the Prince Ali dance on cue. Don't ask, cause I might actually do it. No jokes.

I watched it on repeat as a child and you can understand why. First of all, being an Arab boy who grew up in the Middle East, my childhood was filled with stories of Aladdin and his daring adventures from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. Other than Peter Pan (which I'm also a huge fan of) Aladdin was the only male lead in a princess obsessed Disney world. So seeing a version of those ancient Aladdin stories come to life on the big screen by the one and only Disney was enthralling. Especially when you factor in that the film has one of the best musical scores in Disney history and that Robin Williams voiced the endearing character of the Genie. I was pretty obsessed - still am. If you don't believe me, go to my Facebook page and you'll find that my cover photo is of Aladdin with Abu on his shoulder looking over the great city of Agraba. Yes, I make little to no effort to hide my nerdy geeky side. I wonder if that's why I'm still single. 

Anyway, as I entered my later teens and twenties the world evolved into a more Islamophobic place. The view of Arabs turned from  incredibly ignorant (which in hindsight is preferable) to one that is extremely false and stereotyped. In reaction, I started to read and research into how Arabs were being and have been portrayed through the Western lens. From Edward Said's Orientalism to the documentary Reel Arabs starring Jack Shaheen and his book of the same name and a bunch of other documentaries, all of them pointed to the fact that one of my favorite childhood films had some very negative and damaging stereotypes. It is, some may argue, racist.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place I couldn't figure out whether I still loved that film or whether or not I should hate every part of it. Aladdin isn't alone in this. Disney has a history of falsely depicting people in either an idealistic light or an offending one.

Then late last year news broke out that Aladdin was on the list of animated films being transformed into a live action flick with real actors. I was excited and worried. My first thought was, this has to be good - right? A film, a great story about Arabs, heroic Arabs, fun, funny Arabs had to help with the generalized negative view many people have on the Middle East, right? Or will we end up with a completely white washed cast? Will these offensive stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims be projected in a way to heighten fear?

So what am I excited about? Well, director Guy Ritchie has released a casting call specifically looking for Middle Eastern actors. "These characters are Middle Eastern, "read the first line of the casting call reads. Amazing and also a bit sad that we've learned to be grateful for a lot of things that should be a given.

In any case, this is the right step forward. It gives the impression that Guy Ritchie and the people behind the film are taking the right step towards making a movie, that instead of offending us will be genuine and hopefully timeless.


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