During the Disney Renaissance era, Aladdin was the first culturally diverse film of its kind. Recently, director Guy Ritchie has taken it under his belt to bring 1992’s most successful endeavour back to the big screens. However, with the attention it has garnered, comes a lot of criticism of the cast choices involved.

Even the Academy Award winning animation film was susceptible to criticism. Dr.Jack Shaheen, one of the loudest and most distinguished critics of Arab vilification in Hollywood, claimed that the film perpetuated Orientalist stereotypes of the Middle East and Asia. The American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee saw white and westernised features in the heroes Aladdin and Jasmine that contrasted sharply with the street merchants who had Arabic accents and abhorrent facial features.

Shaheen claimed, in an article in 1992, that these images perpetuated negative stereotypes that “literally sustain adverse portraits across generations.” 

The long-standing critiques have held and are now to direct their grievances to a new target.

The studio has auditioned over 2000 applicants for the lead roles of Aladdin and Jasmine, and claimed that none of them made the cut simply because they didn’t fit Ritchie’s criteria. Apparently, ‘finding a male lead in his 20s who can act and sing has proven difficult — especially since the studio wants someone of Middle-Eastern or Indian descent.’

The production of the film has experienced constant delay due to the ‘casting crisis.’  It was originally scheduled to begin in July, but the shooting-date has now been moved up to August.

Actor Kumail Nanjiani blatantly called out on the derogatory effect that this apparent casting difficulty might have on Middle Eastern or South-East Asian actors when he tweeted:

Fans of the original adaptation gave their two cents on who to they considered being a perfect fit for the role of Aladdin . Among suggested actors were Dev Patel and Riz Ahmed, both of whom have the attributes which the production considers to be so allusive amongst people of South Asian heritage.

Academy Award nominated director Lexi Alexander, who is half German and half Palestinian has remarked in an interview with BBC, “Nobody in their right mind can state that it is impossible to find a young male South Asian or Middle-Eastern actor who can dance, sing and act. Bollywood is an entire industry made up of talents like this and the Middle East has equally as much talent. It’s a convenient system that insists actors-of-colour need to be household names to be cast, while nobody wants to give them a break.” She tweeted the following to director Guy Ritchie:

The negative response and excessive backlash on social media just proves that the alleged difficulty in finding actors to play these parts is rooted in the not-so-subtle suggestion that people of colour are simply less talented than their white counterparts.

At the moment, a relatively small proportion of lead blockbuster roles are given to people of colour, which amplifies the aforementioned allegation.

Finally, Mena Massoud has been cast as Aladdin , and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. They’ve expressed their excitement to begin shooting on Twitter:

The former is Egyptian, but born and raised entirely in Canada and with very limited prior experience in the acting industry. The latter is half-Indian and half-British, but lives in England. She also lacks a resume of playing diverse roles. On Twitter, many people have taken to vocalizing their discontent with the castings.