Yes, this is another post about the upcoming live-action Aladdin film causing a stir, because these gaffs just can't stop happening. Just to catch you up: Things got off to a rocky start when, over the summer, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the movie was having trouble finding the right leads. Eventually, the role of Aladdin went to Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud, but when Naomi Scott landed the role of Jasmine, fans criticised Disney for treating people of colour as interchangeable, since her character is Arab but Scott is British and Indian. Then, in September, they decided to add a brand new character to the film, played by Billy Magnussen — a white man. Now, the film is reportedly spray-tanning white actors to make them appear more Middle Eastern.
This is according to actor Kaushal Odedra, a stand-in for Massoud and also an extra in the film. Odedra spoke to the Sunday Times about what he witnessed, which was apparently a line of 20 white extras waiting to get tanned.
"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," he told the outlet. "Also, if I’d wanted to discuss it, speaking to the almost entirely white crew seemed somewhat intimidating."
In addition to Scott, Massoud, and Magnussen, the film has cast Will Smith as the genie, Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, and Nasim Pedrad as new character Dalia, to name a few. It's clear the effort is being made to stay true to the story and accurately represent the characters, and a statement from Disney claimed that "400 of the 500 background performers were Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean and Asian." But if there weren't enough people of colour available for the roles, then the solution is not to tan white actors. Instead, go to the root of the problem, identify why fans feel insulted when news like this leaks, and realise that the reason for this shortage comes down to the fact that the industry hasn't been welcoming to people of colour — and that's on us to fix.
Refinery29 has reached out to Disney and director Guy Ritchie for comment.