Growing up as a brown child in the nineties I didn’t have a lot of representation to look forward to in mainstream Hollywood- that is, until Disney released Aladdin in 1992.
One of my fondest memories is getting to watch Aladdin with my kindergarten classmates. Yes, I admit I didn’t understand most of the plot at such a young age but, I did relate to the characters at a more personal level. Finally, someone in an animated movie who was brown like me and my friends.Thus, it’s no surprise that Aladdin changed my perception of beauty.
In a region obsessed with being white and fair skinned, princess Jasmine was a welcome change.
Problematic Portrayals In Aladdin (1992)
Disney’s animated Aladdin from 1992 was filled with orientalism. The opening song of the movie, ‘Arabian Nights’ was blatantly offensive. The lyrics described a place where they ‘cut off a person’s ears if they didn’t like his face’. The lyrics then proceeded to call the place and its inhabitants ‘barbaric’. Later, after viewers complained, they slightly altered the lyrics. Moreover, it was unsettling to realise that the villains (Jaffar) in Aladdin had more of a foreign accent, while the protagonists (Aladdin and Jasmine) had American accents and distinctive European features. The movie also blurred the distinctions between Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, reinforcing notions of oriental interchangeability.
Welcome Changes Made In The Live-action Remake
The movie stars actors: Mena Massoud (Aladdin), Naomi Scott (Princess Jasmine) and Will Smith (Genie). The diverse casting choices of the main cast and extras, are a welcome attempt to rectify the long standing history of whitewashing and stereotyping done in Hollywood.
Moreover, the new story arc featuring Princess Jasmine was interesting, to say the least. She even gets to sing a brand new song called ‘Speechless’, which focuses on the theme of female empowerment.
Changes were also made with Princess Jasmine and Aladdin’s wardrobe choices. They hid Jasmine’s exposed midriff and gave Aladdin a shirt with sleeves instead of a vest. This was an attempt to make the movie more family friendly and to not over-sexualise the characters.
However, there’s still room for improvement. The Bollywood inspired dance numbers were absolutely atrocious. The accent dilemma still remains from its predecessor – the protagonists have American accents while the antagonists have foreign accents.
Instances of clichéd exoticism, which makes matters worse.
The live-action re-make proves that on-screen diversity is an asset in Hollywood. Even though the movie could have done with more nuance, it still delivered in terms of believability.
Will Smith had one of the best on screen performances and effectively made the character of Genie his own.
I would personally rate the movie 2.5/5 stars. Though the storyline is a refreshing change, the overall movie fails to impress. The movie would’ve captivated the audience’s attention more effectively if it had been concise and hadn’t dragged on for a good two hours eight minutes. Thus, even though the movie was enjoyable it wasn’t anything remarkable. Viewers are to keep their expectations low so that they aren’t gravely disappointed.
Where Can You Watch Aladdin (2019)
The movie released worldwide on the 24th of May 2019. You can watch Aladdin at various Cinema houses all over Pakistan. Ticket prices start from PKR800.