Potential racism on a Disney set or are we jumping the gun?


Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin remake has been the source of some controversy over the past few days. The main headline that has been circulating is that Ritchie is having white actors tanned for the film. To unpack this just a little bit, we can take a look at Disney’s statement and the new additions to the script that have been made.

First and foremost, and perhaps the most important thing to be aware of with this film, is that it is not being made like Beauty and the Beast. The 2017 remake was something of a shot-for-shot remake. Which simply means that they tried to diverge from the source material as little as possible while creating the film. This film is instead an adaptation of the original animated piece. If it is true that Richie is tanning white actors for the purpose of replicating a certain race or culture then the consequences and inevitable backlash will be immense.

There is evidence that supports the contrary. However, Disney is keeping incredibly tight-lipped with each of the remakes their making.

In addition to the tanning news, it appears that Richie is adding a second villain to the upcoming film. If you don’t remember Aladdin or haven’t seen it, Jafar, the advisor to the sultan of Agrabah, is the villain of the film. He is trying to hypnotize the Sultan to let him marry his daughter, Jasmine, who loves Aladdin. However, Ritchie appears to be adding a secondary villain who will serve as part of Aladdin’s arc in becoming worthy of Jasmine’s hand in marriage. This character is named Prince Anders and will be played by Billy Matgnussen.

This was initially besmirched as white washing the film and creating needless white roles. While I cannot comment on the race of the character, the idea that he is a prince is interesting to me. Obviously this role is looking to touch on the idea of British colonization, something Ritchie has been very critical of in the past. As such, I believe that it could be interesting for Aladdin.

Why? Because Aladdin attempts to emulate Princehood to win Jasmine’s hand in marriage — however, she hates it. She has turned down princes left and right and only falls for Aladdin when he is the charming street kid that he truly is. The story is about breaking down barriers between classes and showing who you really are as a person. Prince Anders will most likely be one of two things. A sure fire sign to Aladdin of what not to do as far as winning Jasmine’s hand. Or, conversely, he could simply be one of Jasmine’s potential suitors.

However, the most important thing to gleam from this is that the tanning of white actors is very likely tied to the inclusion of the Prince Anders character that is unique to this remake of the original film. It would be fairly uncommon to see a prince alone, especially in the pseudo-ancient world of Aladdin and the news of white actors being tanned comes with no additional context or allegations is odd at best.

The other thing that makes me not incredibly hasty to believe this is the fact that the controversy revolves around Disney. Disney has an insanely good streak of appropriately casting roles for those who are of colour including voice actors. To hear about Disney attempting a variation of blackface is absolutely unheard of this day and age. As such, always be skeptical but perhaps hold off on lobbing accusations until we get a trailer.

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