Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Chinese actor should have been picked to play Aladdin, cast named for movie

Mena Massoud will play Aladdin and Naomi Scott will be Jasmine in the new Disney production.

ALADDIN, should have been cast as a Chinese youth. Now that we've baited you, read on.

Just days after stories came out in the movie industry's trade media that Disney was having a difficult time finding ethnically appropriate actors for its live-action Aladdin, the studio announced they found their Aladdin and Jasmine.

Coincidence? I think the media (including Views from the Edge) were played.

Yesterday, July 15, at Disney's fan conclave, D23 Expo, the studio confirmed that two relatively fresh faces will take the lead roles in the live-action production. Naomi Scott, 24, will play Princess Jasmine and newcomer Mena Massoud will portray the title character in the remake of the 1992 animated classic.

Earlier, Will Smith had signed on to play the Genie, who was voiced by the late comedian Robin  Williams in the Disney's original version, which was itself based on an Middle-eastern tale.

The selection of these two actors - in the context of cultural appropriation. has created a kerfuffle among netizens.

Massoud, whose father is Egyptian, grew up in Canada after immigrating from Egypt where he was born.

After the announcement, he tweeted, “So honored & grateful for the opportunity to help bring this magical story to life once again. Let’s get to work!”

RELATED: Three upcoming movies seek Asian casts
Although relatively unknown, he's not without a resume. Massoud has been working in television and film since 2011, amassing credits on Teen Nick’s Open Heart, The CW’s Nikita, and the Canadian series Saving Hope. But he’s largely remained under the radar — until this new boost to his celebrity stock.

“I grew up in a culturally different household,” he explained in an interview with Defective Geeks. “My parents saw certain things differently than other people. I went to schools that had a significantly large Caucasian population and I feel very fortunate because I was able to compare that perspective with my family’s. It allowed me to create a wider world view on things. Also, though, at this point in my career, being a visible minority in this industry still affects me.

“I can’t compete for roles that require me to be Caucasian or African/American, even if those characters really connect with me and intrigue me," he said. "The competition may be less, some people would say, but the amount of work to be had is less as well. However, I think the industry is growing more and more and starting to support actors of all cultural backgrounds.”

Naming Scott as Jasmine, has raised the hackles of a few netizens because, she is not Middle-eastern descent. The actress is from London. Her mother Usha Scott (née Joshi) is from Uganda and is of Gujarati Indian descent. Meanwhile, Naomi's father, Christopher Scott, is British.

Origin of Aladdin

The 24-year-old was on the television science fiction series, Terra Nova in 2011 and made a Disney movie Lemonade Mouth that same year, in which she was able to display her singing abilities. She might be best known for her role as Kimberly (aka the Pink Ranger) in this year's Power Rangers movie.

Agrabah, it should be pointed out, is a fictional locale despite a poll that says over 30 percent of Republicans would like to bomb it. Many in our pop-culture-centric world believe the original tale is one of the One Thousand and One Nights stories told by the legendary Persian (not Arabic) storyteller Scheherazade. It turns out that's not true.

The story of Aladdin, the magic lamp and genie was not in the original Arabic writings of those stories. That can be blamed on French translator Antoine Galland in the 18th century. The Aladdin story was added to the collection as well as "Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves" and the "Adventures of Sinbad." (Interesting that the three most famous stories are not in the original manuscripts.

In the earliest version of the story, Aladdin is a poor youth living on the streets of China and his love interest was not the sweet-sounding Jasmine, but the difficult-to-pronounce Badroulbadour, according to Krystyn R. Moon in Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s. 

In the original version, Aladdin is no foreigner abroad either: he’s a Chinese boy, not an Arabian youth who’s ended up in China. (Nor is he an orphan: in the earliest versions of the story, Aladdin is not an orphaned street urchin but a lazy boy living at home with his mother.) 

The visuals and storyline of Disney's animated Aladdin are most likely formed by a 1944 adventure swashbuckler, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves starring Jon Hall and Maria Montez; basically a western vision of the exotic "orient." Unfortunately, it is speaks to the power of movies and its imagery that that was America's predominant view of the Middle East until 9/11. (Watch the trailer below.)

So today's Aladdin is a redo of the 1992 Disney cartoon version, which was a ripoff of a 1940's film, which was a ripoff of an 18th century French translator's story collection, which was a ripoff of a Persian tale, which was a ripoff of a Chinese fable. It is so far removed from its original source material that any controversy surrounding the current telling of Aladdin should be moot.