Recently, Disney came under fire for “browning up” white extras on the Surrey, the UK set of the highly anticipated live action Aladdin. According to The Sunday Times, Disney admitted to doing this and “says it resorted to darkening white people for roles requiring skills that could not be readily found in the Asian community, such as stunt men, dancers and camel handlers.”
At this point, Disney should know better. Over one million people of Indian, Arab, Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage live in London alone. Kaushal Odedra, who worked on the set as an extra, spoke to the Times about what he saw:
“On one set, two palace guards came in and I recognized one as a Caucasian actor, but he was now a darkly tanned Arab. I moved inside the marquee where there were 10 extras and two were Caucasian, but they had been heavily tanned to look Middle Eastern.”
Two casting professionals also spoke to the Times and said that this is not normal. “We’ve never been asked for actors to brown up,” said Martin Ayers, the director of a professional extras agency. Laura Sheppard, who works for the casting company that got some of the extras for “Aladdin,” said, “if we don’t have enough people of a particular ethnic group on our books, we will source people from the required group.” Odedra continued:
“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. Also, if I’d wanted to discuss it, speaking to the almost entirely white crew seemed somewhat intimidating.”
Disney officially released a statement regarding the matter saying, “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.”
“Aladdin” has a very diversely talented cast in the starring roles, with Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) as Jasmine. Will Smith will play the Genie, and Tunisian-Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur) will play Jafar.
This doesn’t seem like the first time Disney has had something like this happen to them, but we can only hope that in moving forward, better precautions are taken in avoidance of this issue.