It has been reported that Disney is struggling to find stars for the live-action remake of Aladdin. Since March, director Guy Ritchie, casting director Randi Hill, and the studio have been conducting a worldwide search to find the perfect Aladdin and Jasmine. The Hollywood Reporter claims that, “[F]inding 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.” Proven difficult? Where are the statistics? And does that mean there are no Middle Eastern actors that can sing or dance?
On Twitter, there have been multiple suggestions on who to play Aladdin. They include Oscar-nominee Dev Patel, The Night Of star Riz Ahmed, and award-winning singer Zayn Malik. However, they cannot be fit for the role because they are of Southeast Asian descent. The story of Aladdin takes place in the Middle East, so it only makes sense to cast an actor of Middle Eastern descent.
If someone of Southeast Asian descent (or any non-Arab for that matter) were cast a role in the film, this would prove that Hollywood fails at understanding people and geography. Not casting an Arab leads altogether would cause an erasure of Arab people and its authentic culture from making it to the big screens.
Finding lead roles starring people of color should not be a complicated process. For example, Disney did not shy away from representing Pacific Islanders when they casted for Moana. Although it was an animated movie, it was still authentic and fairly represented the people and culture of the Pacific Islands. Disney did not cast someone who was already super famous, but instead they casted a fresh-faced Auli’i Cravalho, who is of Native Hawaiian descent. In fact, most of the main roles were voice actors of Pacific Island descent, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Nicole Scherzinger. If that doesn’t motivate Disney to do the same for Aladdin, then what will?
While we’re at it, maybe Disney should cast Mr. Robot star Rami Malek (who interestingly enough is playing Freddie Mercury in next year’s biopic Bohemian Rhapsody), Little Mix singer Jade Thirlwall (who is half-Arab), and Khleo Thomas who tweeted interest in playing Jafar.
It’s going to take more than a genie in a lamp to find the perfect roles. As long as Disney is careful and considerate in making casting decisions, then it will make a whole new world full of possibilities.