The upcoming live-action remake of Aladdin is off to a rocky start. The Guy Ritchie directed adaptation is making headlines this weekend for a reported choice to use makeup to darken the skin of 100 actors working as extras. A number of UK Newspapers and online outlets are running with the story that was broken by the paywalled Sunday Times.
Roughly 100 out of 500 background extras are white, with the other 400 being “of Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean, or Asian descent,” according to a statement issued by Disney in response to the story. Reports on set say that, in order to maintain an accurate look for the movie, which takes place in Agrabah, a fictional Middle Eastern kingdom which serves as a stand-in for Baghdad, makeup is being applied to turn white actors brown.
“Disney are sending out a message that your skin color, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can be powered on and washed off,” said extra Kaushal Odedra, a stand-in for Aladdin, who also reported seeing multiple caucasian actors tanned to look Middle Eastern with makeup.
“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 TV director Riaz Meer according to a report from the Independent, calling the fiasco “an insult to the entire industry” and adding, “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.”
Aladdin stars Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, Mena Massoud as the titular Aladdin, and Will Smith as Will Smith playing the Genie. The movie is set for release in May of 2019.