Guy Ritchie whitens Aladdin
Freya Wasteneys // Contributor
Two weeks ago it was leaked that the, ahem, very white actor Billy Magnussen is being added to the cast for the live-action remake of Disney’s 1992 Aladdin. This movie has already been under the watchful eye of the public, following rumours that Tom Hardy would be playing Jafar. This turned out to be a false alarm, but given Hollywood’s long history of racial whitewashing, these concerns were not unfounded.
Typically, “whitewashing” refers to the casting of white actors in non-white roles. This of course reinforces the systemic racism that exists in the movie-making industry, and continues the unfortunate tendency of white people telling non-white narratives.
But, we are quickly learning that there is more than one way to whitewash. While there is currently little information available regarding Magnussen’s role, what we do know is that he will be playing Prince Anders – a new and seemingly unnecessary addition to the beloved Disney classic. While the motives are unclear, this decision highlights the tensions surrounding race, and the ongoing existence of institutional racism.
Many directors claim that adding big-name celebrities to a cast helps increase the viewership and is financially necessary. Is it their fault that it just-so-happens there are a lot more big-name white actors to choose from?
According to Andrew Weaver, an assistant professor at Indiana University, “Hollywood’s sort of given up on the idea that you can have crossover success with a minority cast. You get this discrimination in the casting of roles, where they’re going to cast whites if at all possible to maximize the audience.”
We certainly see this in the under-representation of ethnic minorities, with white characters out-numbering ethnic characters six-to-one despite minorities making up about 40 per cent of the population in the US.
That is not to say that there has been no progression in the television and lm industry, but there is still the issue of creating ‘token minorities’— adding the pretense of diversity without actually giving ethnic characters any real representation. Either way, the lm industry has a long way to go in restructuring long-held beliefs and practices.
Sadly, the addition of Prince Anders to the Aladdin storyline seems to follow an all-too-familiar trend in the lm industry. By trying to cater to a white audience, the director takes away from the story itself. While this would seem to be a careless blunder on the part of director, Guy Ritchie, perhaps we should not let him off so easily.
Despite receiving negative press for this political faux pas, there is no doubt that the recent controversy has caught the attention of the public. While many disapprove of Ritchie’s casting choices, there are more still who are curious to see how and why Magnussen was added to the cast. Unfortunately, if the Trump administration has taught us anything, bad press can be good for business.
This issue demonstrates the need for real conversations about racism. Despite the ongoing efforts, the lm industry still has a long way to go. While there is more representation for minorities than ever before, we must also be cautious of tokenism, reinforcing stereotypes, and the creation of caricatures.
In everything, problems seem to stem from the creation of ‘us’ and ‘them’. This is true when it comes to race, but it is also true when it comes to the demonization of the movie industry. It is easy to point fingers at ‘Hollywood’ as the maker of all evils, without remembering that movies often reflect the society we live in. Let’s be better.