When Disney announced the leads for its live-action remake of 1992's animated classic "Aladdin," many fans were just relieved the cast wasn't white.
But criticism for the choices quickly popped up on social media, particularly with regards to Naomi Scott, who is slated to play Princess Jasmine.
So excited to be a part of this adventure! This is gonna be fun :) https://t.co/fFpkkEg2kR— Naomi Scott (@NaomiScott) July 15, 2017
Scott is biracial and of mixed British and Gujarati Indian descent, and many see her casting as Disney reinforcing the idea that South Asian and Middle Eastern people are interchangeable.
i love naomi scott but i don't love the "brown ppl are interchangeable" idea that hollywood believes in so it's a no from me lmao— T'CHALLA 🍑🍯✨ (@dirzacksnyder) July 15, 2017
naomi scott should've been batgirl so jasmine could be played by a middle eastern woman im so TIRED of hollywood not knowing how to cast poc pic.twitter.com/EDAfpw9Owb— gabi 🍒 (@harleivy) July 15, 2017
Of course, "Aladdin" is set in the fictional kingdom of Agrabah, but the film states it is near the Jordan River, and opens with a song called "Arabian Nights." Ron Clements and John Musker, directors of the original film, told E! News in 2015 that the movie was originally going to be set in Baghdad, Iraq, but was moved to a fictional city because of the first Gulf War.
"Roy Disney said, 'This can't be in Baghdad.' So, I took letters and did a jumbled anagram and came up with Agrabah," Musker said.
The names Aladdin and Jasmine both originate in the Middle East.
So with all the crew confirmations and many of the film's visual clues, Agrabah is generally accepted to be somewhere in the Middle East.
But people defending Scott's casting say that because Disney intertwined Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures in the original — namely by giving Jasmine a tiger named Rajah, and some speculate, basing the Sultan's palace off the Taj Mahal — it's only fair for them to cast a South Asian as one of its leads.
The controversy comes on the heels of headlines about "Aladdin's" casting team struggling to find leads for the film — something which led many to suggest actors like social media favourites Avan Jogia and Priyanka Chopra, who are both South Asian too.
Along with her ethnicity, many argue Scott is too pale to play Jasmine.
Even before the live-action adaptation, '"Aladdin" was one of Disney's most contentious films because of its mishmash of cultures and reliance on stereotypes — including giving the villain heavily Arab features while basing the heroes' appearances off Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly.
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In 1993, Disney also changed one of the lines from the opening song after the film was released in an attempt to make it less racist, but the newer version still referred to the region as "barbaric."
Thus far, Disney hasn't revealed the cast for the film's supporting roles, including the villain Jafar, and Jasmine's father, the Sultan.
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