Hey, Disney– Brown Folks Are NOT Interchangeable

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Photo by Zoe Toseland via Flickr

Disney has been stirring up trouble lately–although that’s nothing out of the ordinary. A live-action remake of the 1992 movie, Aladdin, is underway. After three months of searching, 2,000 auditions later, and a delay in filming, the studio managed to secure its two leads. Mena Massoud will play Aladdin and Naomi Scott is set to play Princess Jasmine.

The studio made headlines recently because the production crew were “struggling” to find an actor to play Aladdin. Apparently, the 2,000 auditions just weren’t enough for them to choose from. Though to give Disney some credit, 2,000 people read for the parts of Aladdin and Jasmine.

Disney claimed that it had been hard to find a “Middle Eastern or South Asian” actor in their twenties who is capable of singing, dancing, and acting well. And believe me, Twitter was up in arms.




And even though Disney announced that they’ve found their Aladdin and Jasmine, they aren’t that much closer to being out of hot water. Naomi Scott, the actress who is set to play Jasmine, is half Indian and half white. And here is where fans’ opinions become really divided.

Some people want Disney to cast an Arab actor and actress to play Aladdin and Jasmine because the story takes place in an a fictional Arabian city, Agrabah. And with Naomi’s Scott’s announcement, people are upset that Disney casted a non-Arab actress.


Others are defending Naomi’s Scott’s casting since the original Aladdin animation had a mix of Arab and Indian cultural characteristics.


It’s important to note, the original 1992 movie was largely based on Arab stereotypes. The film’s first song is the very popular, “Arabian Nights.” Some of the lyrics of the song describe the Arab world as a place “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” and “barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” It simply serves to reiterate this idea that Arabs are cruel people from a lawless, desert land.

So here’s the thing, Disney could have taken this remake and used it as an opportunity to properly tell an Arab story with an all-Arab cast. Instead, Disney is already repeating their mistakes from 15 years ago.

In case Disney still does not understand, here is why people are so outraged by all this: brown folks are NOT interchangeable. South Asians and Arabs are different groups of people with distinctly different cultures. On top of that they have even more varied cultures within both of those umbrella terms. So I would suggest that the studio not participate in ethnic erasure.

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