Disney’s live-action remake of “Aladdin” is taking heat after an extra working on the Guy Ritchie-directed film claimed he saw makeup artists darkening the skin of white actors.
As Britain’s Sunday Times reports, extra Kaushal Odedra — who was reportedly working as a stand-in for one of the lead actors — claimed that he saw up to 20 “very fair-skinned” actors waiting to have their skin darkened by the film’s makeup artists.
“Disney are sending out a message that your skin colour, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can be powdered on and washed off,” Odedra told the Times.
In speaking with other actors on the set, Odedra was told that this was par for the course.
“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,” he added. “Also, if I’d wanted to discuss it, speaking to the almost entirely white crew seemed somewhat intimidating.”
Odedra noted that he saw evidence of skin-darkening firsthand. “On one set, two palace guards came in and I recognized one as a Caucasian actor, but he was now a darkly tanned Arab,” he 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.”
Addressing the allegations with the Times, British TV director Riaz Meer (a member of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union’s black members’ committee) described the skin-darkening as “an insult to the whole industry” and a slap in the face to young ethnic actors looking to break into the film business.
“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,” said Meer. “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 filmmakers.”
A rep for Disney, however, is defending its casting, declaring that “Aladdin” boasts “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.”
Iranian-born actor David Negahban (who plays the Sultan in the film) spoke with HuffPost to address whitewashing concerns, insisting it’s a non-issue.
“It’s not whitewashing,” he said. “The thing is that the garden should be filled with flowers of different kinds. If not, the garden is going to be very boring. So you’re gonna go and see this beautiful garden with colourful flowers, and I just hope that you enjoy the journey.”
He added: “Just go enjoy the journey because you will definitely love the film. It doesn’t matter how old you are, the film has something for you to take away from it.”
This isn’t the first “whitewashing” controversy to hit the live-action reboot of the beloved animated hit, which features Will Smith stepping into Robin Williams’ iconic role of the Genie.
Back in September, the film was slammed after the revelation that a new Caucasian character (who doesn’t exist in the original) had been added, with some fans outraged by the apparent need to add a white person to a film set in the Middle East.