Welcome to The Middle Geeks! In our very first episode, Mae and Swara introduce the podcast and discuss our feelings on Middle East and North African (MENA) representation in popular media. We also review the live action remakes of Aladdin, discussing what we think it did well, how it could have done better, and how the unfortunate Orientalism of the film conveys how Disney and the rest of Hollywood need to do better on Middle Eastern inclusion.
Disney’s Aladdin will be the first live-action Disney film that showcases people of color in starring roles. The cast and creatives of the film know this and appreciate the effort. Starring Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud as the title character, British Indian Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, and Will Smith as the Genie, Disney wanted to be sure the characters in the beloved story represented the Aladdin origin story (which also included East and South Asian origins) as well as the animated film.
“I think it is critically important to be able to pull stories and colors and textures and tastes from around the world,” said Smith during the Aladdin press conference. “I think that in this particular time in the world, that kind of inclusion and diversity will be a critical part of turning our connectivity, because we have more connectivity than ever, but transitioning that connectivity into harmony is going to be really critical. And, I think these kinds of interactions in these types of movies are a powerful global service. It was critical and important to me. I spent a lot of time in the Middle East also. So this one particularly was critically important in that way.”
Aladdin is one of my favorite films of all time. It gave me, as a brown Middle Eastern kid, heroic representation that’s always stayed with me. I’ve already written at length for about my overall very complicated feelings on the live action remake. While the new trailer is solid, it’s also given more insight into the problematic trends this live action movie seems to perpetuate. Overall, I have little to no confidence that this film will improve upon the problematic aspects of the original (besides the welcome addition of having people of color play the main roles), and in fact will double down on more troubling aspects.
So recently I got an opportunity to catch director Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword which stars Charlie Hunnam as The Once and Future King. The film can best be summed up as Camelocked Stocked and Two Smoking Barrels.