Other think-pieces have been published today focusing on the “who” of the question. Dev Patel and Riz Ahmed have been rumored as early favorites for the role, which makes a lot of sense to anyone who has seen Lion or Rogue One. Naomi Scott, after her wonderful run in Power Rangers, seems to be a lock for Jasmine. However, officially casting these sought-after stars for the remake of a Disney property has not been as easy as one would hope. That being said, creators on-set have stated that casting directors are fully willing to cast an “unknown” in the massive role (similar to how relative unknowns landed lead roles in the live-action remakes of The Jungle Book and Cinderella). With the massive worldwide presence that is Indian Cinema, one would think that finding this performer would require little more than a quick call to a casting agency.
This drives us to the question of “why.” Why is this so difficult? Why is Disney having so much trouble fleshing out one of its most iconic characters? When discussing actors of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, we are looking at a global population that encompasses over a billion people. It is ludicrous to suppose that only a small percentile of the actors in this area have dramatic chops and can carry a tune well enough to land this role. Watching any Bollywood movie will quickly make this apparent.
Disney is in the business of making stars. Daisy Ridley, Lily James, and even Tom Holland were not household names until they were cast in major Disney productions. Disney movies don’t need big stars and big names to propel them to success. This is the perfect platform to push a talented actor from India or the Middle East into stardom. Instead, casting a person of color in an iconic role has proved almost impossible for one of the largest studios in the world. Regardless of how someone feels about whitewashing or the constant cries for greater representation from people of color, this frustration at a broken system should resonate. I can only hope that this holdup in production will result in a better final pick for the roles of Aladdin and Jasmine. However, as I have grown accustomed to doing, I will most likely just have to continue ignoring this movie altogether in hopes that, eventually, things will be made right.
Guy Ritchie went on record recently declaring his desire to cast the very not-Middle Eastern and very not-South Asian Tom Hardy as Jafar. I can’t think of a better way to epitomize my frustrations than that. This shouldn’t be so difficult.