Disney is wading through another controversy, this time courtesy of Aladdin. The latest skirmish began when Kaushal Odedra, an extra in the film, told The Times of London that he had seen “fair-skinned” actors getting their skin darkened with makeup before being featured in crowd shots. The tidbit of information quickly went viral, hearkening back to a sinister Old Hollywood tendency to “brown up” white people instead of simply hiring people of color. The news also arrived just months after an outcry erupted over the casting of Billy Magnussen, who plays a brand-new character named Prince Anders—which rankled fans of the original Aladdin. Why did the studio need to invent a brand-new white character for this live-action remake, especially since its story largely centers on a fictional Middle Eastern country?
Disney, however, is defending its decision to brown up extras in a sort of roundabout way. The studio gave an official statement to the BBC, confirming that makeup was used in order to help crew members—not background actors, as Odedra had said—“blend in.” However, the studio also added that there’s been a strong emphasis throughout production of Aladdin on making sure that the cast of the Guy Ritchiefilm is inclusive.
“Great care was taken to put together one of the largest, most diverse casts ever seen on screen,” the statement reads. “Diversity of our cast and background performers was a requirement and only in a handful of instances when it was a matter of specialty skills, safety and control (special effects rigs, stunt performers, and handling of animals) were crew made up to blend in.”
One of the film’s stars, Navid Negahban, who plays the sultan, also recently brushed off concerns that the film was being whitewashed.
“It’s not whitewashing,” he told HuffPost, before comparing the production to a garden. Like a nursery, Aladdin also needs variety,he said—because otherwise, it’s “going to be very boring. So you’re gonna go and see this beautiful garden with colorful flowers, and I just hope that you enjoy the journey.”
“You will definitely love the film,” he added. “It doesn’t matter how old you are—the film has something for you to take away from it.”
Aladdin, which also stars Will Smith as the Genie, is not due in theaters until May 24, 2019, which is practically a lifetime from now on the P.R. disaster-avoidance front. Representatives for Guy Ritchie have not yet confirmed to Vanity Fair if the production had stopped using makeup to darken its actors or crew.