Disney Faces Fresh Criticism, Accused of ‘Browning Up’ White Actors for Aladdin

Disney has landed in controversy following reports that white actors were cast after their skin was darkened in the Guy Ritchie-directed movie Aladdin.


The Guy Ritchie-directed live action movie adaptation of Aladdin has run into another controversy. As the filming continues at Surrey, 48 km from London, which has a thriving Asian community, Disney has admitted to “browning up” white actors for background roles.

Kaushal Odedra, who worked as a stand-in for an actor in the movie, said he saw 20 “very fair skinned” actors waiting to have their skin darkened in make-up tents, the Sunday Times reported. Caucasian extras were browned-up for crowd shots, he said.

“Disney is sending out a message that your skin color, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can be powered on and washed off,” Odedra, 32, told he publication. “On one set, two palace guards came in and I recognized one as a Caucasian actor, but he was now a darkly tanned Arab. I moved inside the marquee where there were 10 extras and two were Caucasian, but they had been heavily tanned to look Middle Eastern.”

Disney responded to the criticism saying positions for stunt men, dancers and camel handlers could not be filled for the film slated for release in May 2019. The studio said that 400 of the 500 background performers were of Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean and Asian descent.

Bafta-nominated director Riaz Meer called Disney’s position on the issue “an insult to the industry.” Meer, a serving member of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union’s Black Members’ Committee, said he failed to believe the studio was forced to choose Caucasian actors. “Failing to hire on-screen talent of the right ethnic identity to meet the clear needs of this productions is just plain wrong. We expect better from all filmmakers,” he told the media.

The production stars Will Smith as Genie, Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud as Aladdin, British Indian actor Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Tunisian Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. The studio maintains that the new version of the hit 1992 animated movie Aladdin is the most diversely cast production in Disney’s history.

This is not the first time the film has invited people’s ire. When the production was struggling to find actors of Indian or Middle Eastern descent to portray the leads who can sing, dance, and act, critics scoffed at the idea.

“Nobody in their right mind can state that it is impossible to find a young male South Asian or Middle-Eastern actor who can dance, sing and act,” Academy Award-nominated director Lexi Alexander, who is half German, half Palestinian, was earlier quoted as saying by the BBC. “Bollywood is an entire industry made up of talents like this and the Middle East has equally as much talent. It’s a convenient system that insists actors-of-color need to be household names to be cast, while nobody wants to give them a break.”

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