Disney turns from “white-washing” trend with casting call for Arab actors

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Sat, 08 Apr 2017 - 08:00 GMT

Characters playing Alaadin and Jaafar -
 Creative Commons via Fickr/Loren Javier

Characters playing Alaadin and Jaafar - Creative Commons via Fickr/Loren Javier

CAIRO – 8 April 2017: For the first time, Disney is looking specifically for Middle Eastern actors to star in leading roles in the live-action film of one of its most renowned classics, “Aladdin,” which will hit theatres in January 2018. The company has also hired Egyptian-American Marwa Gabriel as the official casting director for Egypt.

Gabriel, who will work alongside director Guy Ritchie, announced on her Facebook profile that Middle Eastern actors from 18-22 are sought to play the leading roles of Aladdin and Jasmine. Candidates should also be able to sing.

Talents from the Middle East may have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to star in a Hollywood blockbuster which will be screened all over the world.

Hollywood has often been accused of “white-washing” films and roles in recent years by casting white actors in roles that might be more accurately portrayed by actors of color. By searching for Middle Eastern actors for the lead roles in “Aladdin,” Disney is trying to avoid its past mistakes, according to producer Dan Lin.

The 1992 original animated film portrayed the main characters of Aladdin, Jasmine, Jafar and the Sultan as Arab, and the story was set in the fictional Arabian sultanate of Agrabah, located near the Jordan River.

“So when I came in to make the movie, I wanted to make a diverse version of the movie,” Lin told Collider. “We want to make [Aladdin] a movie that’s authentic to that world.”

Disney has announced that it intends to represent various cultures in the movies it makes in the future, marking a new phase in Hollywood’s film industry, and Aladdin's casting call is a sign the studio is following through on its promise.

Film critics pointed out that Disney is not making the same mistake as the “Ghost In The Shell” team, who cast Scarlett Johansson as the lead character, Japanese cyborg Motoko Kusanagi, instead of an Asian actress. The choice not to hire an Asian actress was highly criticized, as the story is drawn from an old Japanese tale and the character is, inherently, Japanese.

Disney may also be starting to change another Hollywood trend - portraying Middle Easterners exclusively as terrorists. This time, Arab characters will be portrayed as a street-rat-turned-hero and a princess.

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