Disney has been busy making live-action versions of beloved animated classics, and perhaps none has been as closely watched — and criticized — as “Aladdin.”
The latest blowback started after the Hollywood Reporter reported Tuesday that Billy Magnussen is joining the cast to play a new character that wasn’t in the 1992 animated version.
Much of the scrutiny over how Disney would handle remaking “Aladdin” has centered around casting choices, fueled by increased attention on whitewashing in Hollywood and the representation of racial minorities and women on screen. First came reports that director Guy Ritchie was hoping to snag Tom Hardy to play Jafar. Stories emerged that Ritchie and the studio were having trouble finding leads of Middle Eastern or Indian descent during a worldwide casting search — sparking skepticism among fans and critics who took such claims as preemptive excuse-making for casting white actors.
Disney avoided the likely firestorm when it cast Mena Massoud for the title role. The Egyptian-born Canadian actor, a relative newcomer, is joined by Marwan Kenzari as Jafar and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. The biggest star, Will Smith, will play Genie.
Meet the cast of #Aladdin: Will Smith (Genie), @MenaMassoud(Aladdin), @NaomiScott (Jasmine), and Marwan Kenzari (Jafar)! : @realguyritchie pic.twitter.com/1Sktyu5Sle
— Disney (@Disney) September 6, 2017
Filmmakers previously added another new character to their live-action remake — Mara, a handmaiden and friend to Jasmine — but that didn’t draw much negative attention, probably because the original “Aladdin” only had one notable female character, so adding another would help lessen that disparity. Plus, Mara is played by “Saturday Night Live” alum Nasim Pedrad, an Iranian-American actress.
But the news of Magnussen’s addition was met by critics on social media and some sites, who viewed the move as Disney going out of its way to find a way to add a white actor to the cast.