Disney’s upcoming live-action adaptation of Aladdin is raising some eyebrows today for ‘browing up’ its white extras to appear Middle Eastern.
A new report posted by U.K. publication The Sunday Times claims that Disney has “admitted [to] ‘browning up’ dozens of white actors for Asian crowd scenes in the live action version of its animated classic.”
Per a Deadline article which summarized the post, the studio has hired around 400 to 500 background performers that are of Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean or Asian descent to appear in the Guy Ritchie helmed film. There are at least another 100 white extras who have reportedly been darkened in order to fit into the fabric of the story.
Shortly after the news broke, a spokesperson for Disney released a statement saying that hiring a diverse cast was a top priority on Aladdin. Most importantly, the studio didn’t deny darkening white actors who were hired in order to make sure they would be able to “blend in.”
“Great care was taken to put together one of the largest most diverse casts ever seen on screen,” said a spokesperson for the studio. “Diversity of our cast and background performers was a requirement and only in a handful of instances when it was a matter of specialty skills, safety and control (special effects rigs, stunt performers and handling of animals) were crew made up to blend in.”
After reading Disney’s statement, it’s clear that there’s a bit of a disconnect between what the studio sees as the main cause for concern and what’s actually troubling about this story.
The problem isn’t that Disney felt the need to hire white actors for Aladdin to fill these special roles– it’s the fact that the studio felt as though they needed to put white actors in brownface in the first place.
Additionally, it’s disheartening to know that it’s so easy for studios to wash away opportunities in films like Aladdin that should allow actors of color to shine.
In another post on Vulture, actor Kaushal Odedra recalled being on set of Aladdin in September and watching on as “a line of 20 ‘very fair-skinned’ actors waited to be heavily tanned.”
“I asked a Saudi cast member what he made of having these extras being tanned so heavily and he said it’s unfortunate,” said Odedra. “But this is how the industry works, and theres’ no point in complaining about it since it isn’t going to change.”
Disney’s live-action adaptation of Aladdin hits theaters in 2019.