It’s been almost a year since we learned of Disney’s plans for a live-action Aladdin remake. Since then, fans have been on high alert for any white-washing shenanigans Disney might try in the making of a film starring Middle Eastern characters, taking place in the Middle East.
So far, the movie’s casting has drawn some cheers, but also raised some eyebrows. Fans generally are thrilled that Egyptian-Canadian unknown Mena Massoud will play the lead role. If his singing, dancing and acting are as good as his looks, well...
But just when Disneyphiles thought they could breathe a sigh of relief, believing that a major studio might actually make a movie with an all-POC cast, Disney hedged its bets: The live-action Aladdin will now feature a whole new character, apparently so Disney can put a white actor in the movie.
The character in question is named Prince Anders. There are no details yet about the character’s purpose, or how big a role he will play in the story. What we do know is the actor playing him is Billy Magnussen. Despite rumors, he is not the same Billy Magnussen as the Adam Sandler character who goes back to school to repeat kindergarten through 12th grade.
You might remember Magnussen from such films as Bridge of Spies and Ingrid Goes West. He's also appeared in Netflix's Black Mirror and FX's American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson. He played Kato Kaelin in the latter, which is hilarious for some reason.
To be fair, Prince Anders isn’t the only new character in the live-action Aladdin. There’s also Mara, Jasmine’s friend who doesn’t appear in the 1992 version. But that character was added to address the heavy gender imbalance in the cast. And the actor is Nasim Pedrad, who is Iranian-American.
So far, Billy Magnussen has not addressed the agitation over his character. On Twitter, he retweeted The Hollywood Reporter’s article about his casting, but he hasn’t released a personal statement. Disney also is keeping its collective yap shut about the issue, unsurprisingly.
Even the original, animated Aladdin has been dogged by accusations of racism since the beginning. The movie’s opening number contains lyrics about the Middle Eastern setting that say, “They cut off your ear if they don’t like your face,” and, “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” All the way back in 1993, a New York Times article concluded, “To characterize an entire region with this sort of tongue-in-cheek bigotry, especially in a movie aimed at children, borders on barbaric.”
When else has Disney movies been hideously racist, you ask? Ho-ho! Where should we begin? That’s a whole other list, but let’s dig into some of their greatest hits. How about Song of the South? You probably haven’t seen it since it’s been locked up tight in the Disney vault for decades. Even Disney is embarrassed by the blatant, wall-to-wall racism in this movie.
How about the crows from Dumbo, the obviously racist caricatures of Southern black American stereotypes? For crying out loud, the lead crow was named Jim. Jim Crow. “And I’ll even bet the actor who voiced Jim Crow was a white guy,” you’re probably saying. Yeah, you’re right. Of course he was.
That “Siamese Cat Song” from Lady and the Tramp is one of the most racist things we’ve ever seen. Their slanted eyes, buck teeth and stereotypical accents are more racist than your racist uncle. And Disney even went back to the well on this one. They put racist, Asian-stereotype cats in The Aristocats too.
We’re embarrassed to even show an image of the “Injuns” from Peter Pan. A picture of the characters is racist enough on its own. That’s not even to mention the movie’s “explanation” of Native American skin color in its charmingly titled song “What Made the Red Man Red?”