Disney went through great pains to find the stars of its upcoming live action Aladdin remake, testing over 2,000 actors before signing the Egyptian-born Mena Massoud as the titular role and British-Indian actress Naomi Scott as Jasmine. But apparently director Guy Ritchie and the crew didn’t put in as much effort in hiring extras for the film, as the production has been darkening caucasian actors’ skin to make them appear more Middle Eastern.
According to The Sunday Times, Disney has been up front about using makeup to change the skin tone of a number of actors on the England set of Aladdin. Despite a large Asian/Middle Eastern community not far from the film’s Surrey location, the casting directors apparently had trouble finding ethnically appropriate extras for “roles requiring skills” such as dancers, singers, and stunt men.
In their defense, Disney told The Times, “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.”
Still, some involved in the production aren’t pleased by what they’ve been seeing. Kaushal Odedra, a stand-in for one of the leads as well as an extra, said he witnessed some 20 “very fair-skinned” actors in line to have their skin darkened by makeup artists. “Disney are sending out a message that your skin color, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can’t be powdered on and washed off,” said Odedra.
Laura Sheppard, whose agency Casting Collective provided a number of extras for Aladdin, said she’d rather spend the energy finding the right actor than send a white person to the set to have their skin tone changed. “If we don’t have enough people of a particular ethnic group on our books, we will source people from the required group,” she said.
Disney has already had other racial casting issues tied to Aladdin. Production started later than intended as they struggled to find people of the right heritage for the setting who could also sing, dance, and act. They also caused a bit of an uproar when it was revealed they’d created a new role, Prince Anders, to compete with Aladdin for Jasmine’s affection; Anders is played by white actor Billy Magnussen.
As of now, no one has cried foul over the casting of Will Smith as a giant blue genie. Aladdin is set to be released May 24th, 2019.