Disney’s Aladdin the Broadway Musical is an enchanting experience. The songs, costumes, and sets are shining, shimmering, and splendid. As mesmerizing as it is, the musical has one indisputable flaw.
In the 1992 animated film of the same name, the characters are undeniably tan-skinned. Unfortunately, the musical fails to portray this by hiring actors who are not represented by Middle Eastern, Persian, or South Asian actors. Even worse, the show uses makeup to make the actors look more “culturally” accurate.
This is highly offensive since it harkens back to minstrel shows performed during the 19th century. In these shows, white actors darkened their skin color to show people of color in a derogatory manner. They mocked minority groups at the expense of entertainment for white audiences.
What kind of message does this send to audiences? If our beloved actors and actresses are allowed to wear offensive makeup, then it normalizes and justifies this behavior to everyday people. This perpetuates stigmas associated with systematic racism and its long-storied history.
The Aladdin Musical has been running since 2011. During the past 9 years, why has Disney failed to replace actors with culturally appropriate ones? Are actors and actresses even aware of it? How much say do they have?
Although the cast does feature some diversity, most notably Genie being portrayed by a black man, this is not an excuse to exclude the demographic represented by original source material.
This is basically the theater equivalent of “I’m not racist, I have a black friend.”
It fails to accurately represent the culture shown in and sets the stage for future shows to continue to hire white actors over POC. It would be as if Mulan was made into a musical and had no Chinese actors or actresses.
My parents immigrated from Kashmir to the United States before my siblings and I were born. Like many other South Asian and Middle Eastern children, Aladdin and Jasmine felt familiar and relatable. They were the biggest names on movies and television we identified with. During this time, there were not many cartoon characters of Middle Eastern, Persian, or South Asian descent. Aladdin and Princess Jasmine were also looked up to by many children of color. They looked like us.
Imagine a dedicated, talented student in one of the best college theater programs who aspire to be a lead actor on Broadway. He’s of Middle Eastern descent. How does he feel when he realizes those who represent Aladdin and Jasmine for the musical are not represented by actors and actresses with the same skin color as the original 1992 Aladdin characters? He questions whether or not theater is worth pursuing if he cannot get the roles he desires simply based on his skin color. Why are talented people of color continually denied lead roles? Broadway still has a long way to go for the proper representation of ethnic characters.
We have so many talented actors and actresses representing many ethnicities and races. Why are ethnic characters continually misrepresented? How is it acceptable to use makeup to culturally misappropriate characters? When do the double standards stop? When will Broadway hire actors and actresses who represent these diverse characters culturally and racially?
We need to set new standards for musical theater. While in recent years Broadway shows have diversified, it still fails Middle Eastern and South Asian actors and audiences.