The much-awaited remake of Disney’s 1992 animated film, Aladdin, has finally hit screens and has been topic of conversation for all the wrong reasons. The live-action film, directed by Guy Ritchie was marred with controversy and scepticism long before filming commenced.
The film, which stars Mena Massoud as Aladdin and British actor Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, has been criticised for being culturally inaccurate as well as having racist depictions of Arab culture. The backlash, however, hasn't solely been ascertained to the 2019 remake, but also to the original 1992 film. While Ritchie made clear efforts to create a more culturally accurate version of Aladdin, it seems audiences are not satisfied.
Earlier this week, a press release issued by The Council on American-Islamic Relations asked film critics and reviewers to acknowledge that the “Aladdin myth is rooted by racism, Orientalism and Islamophobia” and to “address concerns about racial and religious stereotypes perpetuated by the [new] Disney film.”
Contrary to popular belief that the story of Aladdin originates from the 1001 Nights Tales; a collection of traditional Middle Eastern and Asian folklore, it is in fact, one with a different history which is still causing controversy to date. Prior to French writer Antoine Galland; who penned the 18th Century translation of 1001 Nights, Aladdin actually had no known source. As per popular belief, Galland claimed to have heard the tale from a Syrian storyteller, but it is likely that the storyteller never existed.
What comes as a surprise, and a fascinating one at that, is that the original story was not even set in the Arab world, but in China. It was only traditionally translated in English as Arabian Nights. It has been unveiled that early 19th and 20th-century versions of the story culturally show Aladdin as being Asian.
Having taken all these factors into consideration, it is clear to see why the film didn’t get off to a smooth start. There is no doubt that the film is doing well at the Box Office, however, reviews continue to be mixed. Aladdin has always been a household favourite and Ritchie’s version will undoubtedly shape cultural perceptions.