This past weekend, I had the immense pleasure of attending the Global Press Junket for the upcoming Disney live-action film, ALADDIN. Similar to the 1992 animated film, ALADDIN centers around a kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier who vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true. During the press conference, director Guy Ritchie was in attendance along with actors Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Nasim Pedrad, production designer Gemma Jackson, and composer Alan Menken.
When ALADDIN first came out, it was monumental in the fact that it featured Jasmine, the first Disney princess of color. Representation is incredibly important and an issue that is, sadly, still being addressed today; however, Disney and Guy Ritchie took the time needed to make sure that the actors rightfully represented the characters they were portraying. “I’m especially proud of the representation and the ethnically diverse casting that was put together for this” stated Mena Massoud, who plays the pivotal role of Aladdin. “It was certainly something that I was missing in my childhood. I’m proud of the cast and the casting that Guy [Ritchie] and Disney put together. I’m excited for little boys and girls to go see people who look like them on screen. That’s what I’m proud of.”
When speaking with Nasim Pedrad, who portrays Dalia, she echoed the sentiments of Mena Massoud while also talking about bringing to life a new character that is another prominent woman of color. “Well, it was so fun because I think it was all the joy of creating something from scratch, but then watching that intersect with the story we all fell in love with, which I had so much respect for coming into it as a 90s kid, so for me, ALADDIN was Golden Age Disney.” She further continues, “To echo what Mena said, I’m so proud to be a part of the most diversely cast Disney movie of all time I think. That film resonated with me as a child because it was the first time I ever saw a Middle Eastern protagonist in a major motion picture. To get to be a part of that and to get to play a little fun role in being Jasmine’s friend and handmaiden and, especially under the guidance of Guy, who’s so collaborative and fun.”
One of the biggest surprises from the film was the inclusion of a brand new song, Speechless, which centered on the importance of having one’s voice heard. When speaking about it, Naomi Scott, who portrays Jasmine, had a lot to say on the significance of bringing the song to life. “…the fact that [Alan Menken, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul] wrote a song and I get to sing it, first of all, I was like wow. That’s already surreal. But also then when I heard it and just the words and the lyrics and how timely it was, the message behind the song and the idea of not going speechless, that everyone has a voice, doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter what you look like, doesn’t matter what your gender, your voice matters. And speaking out against injustice matters. Not just standing by and being a spectator.” She continues saying, “…it was really emotional because I wanted it to feel raw. And I wanted it to feel like it’s what she’s going through in that moment. And we did some of it live as well which was a different type of challenge. And yeah, you know, it’s out there. The song is for me, it’s like, it’s the world’s song. Like whatever it will be, it will be. And then whatever people take from it, they will take. I’m just obviously very blessed to be the person to kind of embody it in the movie.”
Representation was not only seen in just the diverse cast and musical numbers but also in how the fictional country of Agrabah was shown. It was noted during the press conference that Agrabah’s origin was from East Asia, South Asia, and Middle Eastern culture which was showcased beautifully in the live-action adaptation. This posed the question of the importance of telling this tale not only from the animated motion picture but also the origins culturally to keep it authentic. Will Smith, who portrays the Genie, was quick to chime in stating, “I think it is critically important to be able to pull stories and colors and textures and tastes from around the world. 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 more than just a new adaptation of a beloved animated film, it’s a chance to show that diversity and representation matters. It’s a story about acceptance and about being true to who you are, in having your voice heard and never backing down from the injustices of the world. This version may not have all the beats that made the animated version so special, but it has enough heart to stand on its own while conveying a message that is important in today’s climate. ALADDIN arrives in theaters everywhere this Friday, May 24th. Want to know what we though? Check out our review HERE.
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