Disney has admitted to using makeup to help dozens of white extras look Middle Eastern for crowd scenes in its upcoming, live-action remake of “Aladdin,” The Sunday Times reports. According to the British newspaper, “The company says it resorted to darkening white people for roles requiring skills that could not be readily found in the Asian community” near Longcross Film Studios, where shooting is underway, “such as stunt men, dancers and camel handlers.”
Located in the English county of Surrey, Longcross is about a 50-minute drive from London, home to a 1.1 million-person population of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Arab descendants.
The movie’s director, Guy Ritchie, declined to comment for the Times story, which quotes a onetime stand-in for one of the film’s leads, Kaushal Odedra.
“On one set, two palace guards came in and I recognised one as a Caucasian actor, but he was now a darkly tanned Arab,” Odedra said. “I moved inside the marquee where there were 10 extras and two were Caucasian, but they had been heavily tanned to look Middle Eastern.” He also witnessed a line of approximately 20 “very fair-skinned” actors waiting to have their skin tones darkened, but declined to raise the issue with “the almost entirely white crew, [which] seemed somewhat intimidating.”
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BAFTA-nominated TV director Riaz Meer called Disney’s decision “an insult to the whole industry.” Meer said, “The talent exists and is accessible and there’s no way that Asian extras could not have been hired to meet the needs of the film. Failing to hire on-screen talent of the right ethnic identity to meet the clear needs of this production is just plain wrong. We expect better from all film makers.”
Disney provided the following statement to 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.”
Ten months ago, casting announcements for the lead roles of Aladdin and Jasmine — since filled by Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott — were shared on social media, explaining, “These characters are Middle Eastern.” Dev Patel and “The Night Of” Emmy-winner Riz Ahmed were reportedly considered for the title part.
Slated for a 2019 release, the “Aladdin” remake will also star Marwan Kenzari as Jafar and Will Smith as Genie, a role played by Robin Williams in the 1992 cartoon original. The project was first announced in October 2016.