How the brand new ‘Aladdin’ stacks up in opposition to a century of Hollywood stereotyping

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How the brand new ‘Aladdin’ stacks up in opposition to a century of Hollywood stereotyping

Though critically acclaimed and extensively beloved, the 1992 animated “Aladdin” function had some critical points with stereotyping.

Disney needed to keep away from repeating these similar issues within the reside motion model of “Aladdin,” which got here out on May 24. So they sought recommendation from a Community Advisory Council comprised of Middle Eastern, South Asian and Muslim students, activists and creatives. I used to be requested to be part of the group due to my experience on representations of Arabs and Muslims within the U.S. media.

The truth {that a} main studio needs to listen to from the neighborhood displays Hollywood’s rising dedication to variety.

But whereas the reside motion “Aladdin” does reach rectifying some points of Hollywood’s lengthy historical past of stereotyping and whitewashing Middle Easterners, it nonetheless leaves a lot to be desired.

Magical genies and lecherous sheikhs

In his seminal 1978 ebook “Orientalism,” literature professor Edward Said argued that Western cultures traditionally stereotyped the Middle East to justify exerting management over it.

How the new ‘Aladdin’ stacks up against a century of Hollywood stereotyping
A film poster for the 1921 movie ‘The Sheik.’ Library of Congress

Orientalism in Hollywood has a protracted historical past. Early Hollywood movies similar to “The Sheik” and “Arabian Nights” portrayed the Middle East as a monolithic fantasy land – a magical desert crammed with genies, flying carpets and wealthy males dwelling in opulent palaces with their harem women.

While these depictions have been arguably foolish and innocent, they flattened the variations amongst Middle Eastern cultures, whereas portraying the area as backwards and in want of civilizing by the West.

Then got here a sequence of Middle Eastern conflicts and wars: the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967, the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, the Iran Hostage Crisis and the Gulf War. In American media, the unique Middle East pale; changing it have been depictions of violence and ominous terrorists.

As media scholar Jack G. Shaheen noticed, a whole bunch of Hollywood movies over the past 50 years have linked Islam with holy conflict and terrorism, whereas depicting Muslims as both “hostile alien intruders” or “lecherous, oily sheikhs intent on using nuclear weapons.”

Cringeworthy moments within the authentic ‘Aladdin’

Against this backdrop, the Orientalism of Disney’s 1992 animated “Aladdin” wasn’t all that stunning.

The opening music lyrics described a land “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” and declared, “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home!”

When the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee protested the lyrics, Disney eliminated the reference to reducing off ears within the house video model however left within the descriptor “barbaric.”

Then there have been the methods the characters have been depicted. As many have famous, the unhealthy Arabs are ugly and have overseas accents whereas the great Arabs – Aladdin and Jasmine – possess European options and white American accents.

How the new ‘Aladdin’ stacks up against a century of Hollywood stereotyping
In the animated ‘Aladdin,’ the great Arabs are drawn with Caucasian options, whereas the unhealthy guys converse with overseas accents. Disney

The movie additionally continued the custom of erasing distinctions between Middle Eastern cultures. For instance, Jasmine, who is meant to be from Agrabah – initially Baghdad however fictionalized due to the Gulf War in 1991 – has an Indian-named tiger, Rajah.

Questionable progress

After 9/11, a spate of movies emerged that rehashed lots of the outdated terrorist tropes. But surprisingly, some optimistic representations of Middle Eastern and Muslim characters emerged.

In 2012, I revealed my ebook “Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11.” In it, I element the methods that writers and producers used after 9/11 to offset stereotyping.

The most typical one concerned together with a patriotic Middle Eastern or Muslim American to counterbalance depictions as terrorists. In the TV drama, “Homeland,” for instance, Fara Sherazi, an Iranian American Muslim CIA analyst, is killed by a Muslim terrorist, displaying that “good” Muslim Americans are prepared to die for the United States.

But this didn’t change the truth that Middle Easterners and Muslims have been, by and enormous, portrayed as threats to the West. Adding a ‘good’ Middle Eastern character doesn’t do a lot to upend stereotypes when the overwhelming majority are nonetheless showing in tales about terrorism.

Another technique additionally emerged: reverting to outdated Orientalist tropes of the unique, romantic Middle East. Maybe writers and producers assumed that depicting the Middle East as unique could be an enchancment over associating it with terrorism.

The 2004 movie “Hidalgo,” for instance, tells the story of an American cowboy who travels to the Arabian desert in 1891 to take part in a horse race. In traditional Orientalist trend, he saves the wealthy sheik’s daughter from his evil, power-hungry nephew.

The 2017 film “Victoria and Abdul” depicts an unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and her Indian-Muslim servant, Abdul Karim. While the movie does critique the racism and Islamophobia of 19th-century England, it additionally infantilizes and exoticizes Abdul.

Nonetheless, some obtrusive issues persevered. Jake Gyllenhaal was solid within the lead function of “The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (2010), whereas Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton have been solid in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) as Egyptian characters.

Why have been white actors assuming these roles?

When challenged, producer Ridley Scott infamously stated that he can’t “say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed.”

Does the brand new ‘Aladdin’ make strides?

Perhaps in a need to keep away from the errors of the previous, Disney executives sought recommendation from cultural consultants like me.

There’s definitely some notable progress made within the live-action “Aladdin.”

Egyptian Canadian actor Mena Massoud performs Aladdin. Given the dearth of individuals of Middle Eastern descent in lead roles, the importance of casting Massoud can’t be overstated. And even supposing some white extras had their pores and skin darkened throughout filming, Disney did solid actors of Middle Eastern descent in many of the important roles.

Casting Indian British actress Naomi Scott as Jasmine was controversial; many hoped to see an Arab or Middle Eastern actress on this function and questioned whether or not casting somebody of Indian descent would merely reinforce notions of “Oriental” interchangeability. Nonetheless, the movie does observe that Jasmine’s mom is from one other land.

The largest downside with the 2019 “Aladdin” is that it perpetuates the development of reverting to magical Orientalism – as if that’s a noteworthy enchancment over terrorist portrayals. In reality, it’s not precisely a brave transfer to commerce express racism for cliched exoticism.

To be honest, “Aladdin” distinguishes itself from “Hidalgo” and different Orientalist movies of this development by not revolving across the experiences of a white protagonist.

However, as soon as once more, characters with American accents are the “good guys” whereas these with non-American accents are principally, however not fully, “bad.” And audiences as we speak shall be as exhausting pressed as these in 1992 – or 1922, for that matter – to determine any distinct Middle Eastern cultures past that of an overgeneralized “East.” Belly dancing and Bollywood dancing, turbans and keffiyehs, Iranian and Arab accents all seem within the movie interchangeably.

Just as making optimistic tweaks inside a narrative about terrorism doesn’t accomplish a lot, so does making optimistic tweaks inside a narrative concerning the unique East. Diversifying representations requires transferring past these drained tropes and increasing the sorts of tales which can be advised.

“Aladdin,” in fact, is a fantastical story, so questions on representational accuracy might sound overblown. It can also be a very enjoyable film wherein Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and Will Smith all shine of their roles. But over the past century, Hollywood has produced over 900 movies that stereotype Arabs and Muslims – a relentless drumbeat of stereotypes that influences public opinion and insurance policies.

If there have been 900 movies that didn’t painting Arabs, Iranians and Muslims as terrorists or revert to outdated Orientalist tropes, then movies like “Aladdin” might be “just entertainment.”

Until then, we’ll simply have to attend for the genie to let extra nuanced and numerous portrayals out of the lamp.

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