Disney has been accused of “browning up” dozens of white actors for various Asian roles in their upcoming live-action adaptation of Aladdin.
The Sunday Times published a report claiming the company resorted to darkening white people for roles requiring skills not readily available in the Asian community, listing stuntmen, dancers, and camel handlers as examples.
The movie — directed by Guy Ritchie and based on the Disney animation of the same name — is being filmed at Longcross Studios, Surrey, a 50-minute drive from London where 1.1 million people of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Arab heritage live.
Responding to the report, Disney said: “This is the most diverse cast ever assembled for a Disney live action production. More than 400 of the 500 background performers were Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean and Asian.”
However, some have accused the company of not doing enough. Kaushal Odedra, who worked as a stand-in for a leading actor, told the publication he saw 20 “very fair-skinned” actors waiting to have their skin tone changed.
“On one set, two palace guards came in and I recognised one as a Caucasian actor, but he was now a darkly tanned Arab,” he claimed. “I moved inside the marquee where there were 10 extras and two were Caucasian, but they had been heavily tanned to look Middle Eastern.”
Bafta-nominated TV director Riaz Meer branded the alleged practice “an insult to the whole industry”, adding: “The talent exists and is accessible and there’s no way that Asian extras could not have been hired to meet the needs of the film.
“Failing to hire on-screen talent of the right ethnic identity to meet the clear needs of this production is just plain wrong. We expect better from all filmmakers.”
Ritchie has declined to comment on the situation. The Independent has contacted Disney for further comment.
Disney previously came under fire for creating a whole new role for a white actor in Aladdin. Billy Magnussen has been cast as a character called Prince Anders who did not appear in the original animated movie.
Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud — best known for roles in Jack Ryan and Open Heart — will play the movie’s titular character, while Naomi Scott will portray Princess Jasmine. Will Smith has been cast as the Genie, with Marwan Kenzari playing Jafar.
Aladdin reaches cinemas 24 May 2019.
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