In Depth

Disney's live-action Aladdin to include new white character

News that upcoming movie will feature the new role of Prince Anders provokes claims of 'whitewashing'

Disney has been criticised for “whitewashing” after adding a new, white character to its planned live-action version of Aladdin.

Billy Magnussen will be playing a specially created character called Prince Anders in the forthcoming movie, according to Hollywood Reporter.

“Prior to this announcement, it had been reported producers had been intending to feature a cast entirely made up of people of colour,” says Huffington Post, leaving some fans disappointed and angry about the latest development.

The insertion of Prince Anders “seems like an unnecessary addition” into a tale rooted in the Middle East, says Bleeding Cool Movies. “But it seems even fictional Middle Eastern countries can't go about their business without white guys sticking their nose in.”

Even though filming has yet to begin, this is not the first time the production has been caught up in a race controversy.

Reports that Legend star Tom Hardy was in talks to play the film’s villain, Jafar, sparked accusations that the production was trying to erase its characters’ Middle Eastern ethnicity. Ultimately, Dutch-Tunisian actor Marwan Kenzari was cast in the role.

Earlier this summer, there were reports that the production had fallen behind schedule as casting directors struggled to find the right actors for the lead roles - a claim which provoked some scorn within the industry,

“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,” German-Palestinian director Lexi Alexander told the BBC.

Rather than a question of talent, Alexander said the difficulty was more likely the product of a Hollywood system that “insists actors-of-colour need to be household names to be cast, while nobody wants to give them a break”.

Egyptian-born Canadian actor Mena Massoud is now set to play Aladdin, the “street rat” who finds a magic lamp containing a wish-granting genie. Originally starring by Robin Williams, the live-action movie will feature Will Smith in full wisecracking form as the Genie of the Lamp.

Aladdin’s love interest, Princess Jasmine, will be played by British actress and singer Naomi Scott, whose mother is a Ugandan of Indian descent.

Disney’s troubled relationship with the Aladdin legend goes all the way back to the 1992 animated film of the same name.

At the time of the movie’s release, Arab American groups and cultural commentators voiced their disappointment with the film’s depiction of the Middle East, including the stereotypically ethnic appearance of the villains in comparison to Anglicised "good" characters.

A lyric from opening number Arabian Nights which described the hero’s homeland as a place “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” proved especially contentious.

Later video and DVD releases replaced the offending line with “where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense”

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