Disney Is Allegedly ‘Browning Up’ White Extras for ‘Aladdin’
Disney was met with anticipatory backlash upon announcing their plans for a live-action remake of Aladdin — the studio doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to diversity in front of and behind the scenes, after all. Despite hiring Guy Ritchie to direct the project, Disney publicly declared their commitment to enlisting regionally appropriate actors for Aladdin, which stars Mena Massoud as the eponymous hero opposite Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Marwan Kenzari as Jafar. But according to at least one actor on the set, Disney hasn’t entirely kept their promise.
The Sunday Times spoke with Kaushal Odedra, a stand-in for a lead actor in Ritchie’s live-action remake of Aladdin. Odedra claims that numerous white extras had their skin “heavily tanned” by the makeup department to appear Arab:
On one set, two palace guards came in and I recognised one as a Caucasian actor, but he was now a darkly tanned Arab. I moved inside the marquee where there were 10 extras and two were Caucasian, but they had been heavily tanned to look Middle Eastern.
Loosely based on One Thousand and One Nights, the Aladdin movie is set in Agrabah, a fictional city in the Middle East — an area that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan and Turkey. That has given Disney a wealth of talent both stateside and abroad to choose from, but according to Odedra, a sizable portion of extras were still white. At one point, the actor says he witnessed around 20 “very fair-skinned” extras waiting to have their skin tanned, but ultimately decided against speaking out during filming after discussing the situation with a fellow cast member:
I asked a Saudi cast member what he made of having these extras being tanned so heavily and he said it’s unfortunate, but this is how the industry works, and there’s no point complaining about it since it isn’t going to change.
Ritchie did not offer a comment to the Times, but Disney released a statement regarding the accusations:
This is the most diverse cast ever assembled for a Disney live action production. More than 400 of the 500 background performers were Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean and Asian.
The studio’s official response doesn’t deny Odedra’s claims; instead, it offers that “more than 400 of the 500” extras were people of color — leaving the exact number of white extras unknown, and allowing for the substantial possibility that those actors had their skin darkened to appear Middle Eastern.
According to the Times report, the white extras were cast in roles that required certain performance skills that could not be found among native actors in the region — with such vast and diverse populations, that seems incredibly difficult to believe.
Aladdin, which also stars Will Smith as Genie, is scheduled to arrive on May 24, 2019.