With Beauty and the Beast being another huge hit, Disney is well on its way to remaking all of their animated classics. Jon Favreau is currently developing his remake of The Lion King, and Disney is in China trying to find the perfect lead for their remake of Mulan. Since it seems like their casting is going so well, what the heck is going on with their remake of Aladdin?
Last year, Disney announced that Aladdin would be the next film to be remade with Guy Ritchie behind the camera, but it seems like production will have to be delayed. The reason: they’re having trouble finding leads for the film.
You heard that right.
Out of the billions of Middle Eastern and South Asian men, they can’t find one actor who “has the right chemistry” and talent for the role. THR reports that “finding a male lead in his 20s who can act and sing has proven difficult — especially since the studio wants someone of Middle Eastern or Indian descent.” This statement is hilarious because months before Beauty and the Beast started filming, Disney boasted about how they cast Emma Watson as Belle. They hyped her singing and dancing as the iconic princess, but the end product was adequate at best.
Disney not only has two continents to look at, but they have a huge movie industry to scout out. The U.S only releases around 400-500 films a year while Bollywood releases over 1,000! In fact, some Indian actors have successfully transitioned from Bollywood to the American film industry. Ask Priyanka Chopra how she’s doing.
When the Aladdin remake was announced, fans automatically fancasted Riz Ahmed and Dev Patel in the roles, and who could blame them? Ahmed has an actual singing career, and Patel has experience in dancing from his work on Slumdog Millionaire. They sounded like perfect contenders on paper and folks were hoping for either one or the other. However, Slashfilm reports that both Patel and Ahmed were considered for the role, but the team didn’t want to take away the star power from Will Smith, who will be playing the iconic Genie. Smith isn’t an actor; he’s a marketing tool. He’s only present in films (these days) to sell them, even though there’s no need to sell an all time classic like Aladdin. Patel and Ahmed may be slowly working their way up the Hollywood chain, but they’re not big enough names to scare away a veteran like Smith. That being said, people were so excited at the possibility of Patel or Ahmed being in the film, that I reckon they would have put more butts in seats than Smith would have.
We should address the elephant in the room: location and background. When Disney first announced that they would be looking for exclusively Middle Eastern actors, I was slightly optimistic. I’m half-Iranian, so I understand the dire need for positive representation. I was secretly hoping that Golshifteh Farahani would have a chance at playing Jasmine, but that was wishful thinking on my part. But let’s be realistic here: Agrabah is a fictional country. It’s never exclusively said where it’s set because it mixes up both Middle Eastern and Indian cultures. So as much as I would love seeing Iranian or Arab actors in the roles, it wouldn’t be a travesty having South Asian actors. There is one thing I require though: decide which setting you’re going to base the film in and stick to it. If you cast Middle Eastern actors, make sure that the world follows the proper culture.
Hollywood has been letting minorities down in their choice of leading stars. Whether it’s Ghost in the Shell or Prince of Persia, studios seem to think that white will sell despite the public outcry that follows the controversy. If casting agents truly need a clue as to where to find proper actors for the part, perhaps they should go next door and grab them from their auditions for terrorist number two.