CAIR Criticizes Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ Remake: ‘Racism, Orientalism and Islamophobia’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 22, 2019 | 4:20 AM EDT

(Credit: Walt Disney Pictures)

(CNSNews.com) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is criticizing Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin, saying that releasing the movie “during the Trump era” normalizes stereotyping.

Aladdin, due for release in the U.S. on Friday, is a family fantasy film telling the well-known story of a street urchin who falls in love with a princess, and is ordered by a grand vizier to fetch a magical lamp that summons a genie with the power to make wishes come true.

Turbans, swords and desert landscapes suggest a Middle Eastern or Central Asian setting. The movie was filmed in Jordan.

CAIR, which calls itself the nation’s biggest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, wants film reviewers “to address concerns about racial and religious stereotypes perpetuated by” the movie.

"The Aladdin myth is rooted by racism, Orientalism and Islamophobia,” CAIR executive director Nihad Awad said on Tuesday.

“To release it during the Trump era of rapidly rising anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and racist animus only serves to normalize stereotyping and to marginalize minority communities.”

“The overall setting, tone and character development in the ‘Aladdin’ story continues to promote stereotypes, resulting in a perpetuation of Islamophobic ideas and images,” Awad said.

“We urge the public and film critics to scrutinize the new production of ‘Aladdin’ in light of its historical context and today's toxic environment for all minority communities.”

The Disney remake is an American movie directed by Englishman Guy Ritchie, but minorities dominate the cast.

Egyptian-born Canadian actor Mena Massoud has the title role and Will Smith stars as the genie. The other two major roles, those of Jasmine the princess and the vizier Jafar, are played by a British actress and Dutch actor with Indian and Tunisian family roots respectively. Iranian-born Americans star as Jasmine’s father and handmaiden.

“Not just me, but everybody in the film is diverse and every single person is a person of color and I think that’s incredibly important,” Massoud told the UAE daily The National earlier this month.

Costumes, head coverings, props and settings in the official trailers conjure up Bollywood more than Arabia – intentionally, according to Will Smith. (The fable of Aladdin has long been popular in India, where the new film is being released on Friday in English and three other major Indian languages.)

CAIR, however, says, “While the film is set in a fictional country, Agrabah, the location will clearly be perceived as Middle Eastern, Muslim or the ‘Orient,’ leading viewers to make the resulting associations with Muslim Arabs.”

CAIR also says the Aladdin story “has always been associated with depicting Arabs and Muslims as barbaric, uncivilized ‘others,’ following a long pattern of anti-Muslim attitudes in Hollywood.”

“The release of Aladdin coincides with ongoing Islamophobic content in mainstream entertainment media.”

Aladdin has stoked controversy before. After Disney released its popular animated version in 1992, critics took particular issue with a song lyric describing Agrabah as a place “where they’ll cut off your ear if they don’t like your face / It’s barbaric but hey, it’s home.”

After complaints, Disney changed the lines to, “where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense/ It’s barbaric but hey, it’s home.”

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which had challenged Disney about the lyric, called the change an improvement, but said that “problems remain.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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