London - Disney has become embroiled in a race row after admitting to ‘browning up’ white actors for its forthcoming Aladdin remake.
The film giant claimed it could not find enough Asian actors to perform skills such as dancing and camel handling for the Guy Ritchie-directed film, so resorted to darkening white people for such roles.
Yet the move has enraged members of the film industry, who have pointed to the fact that much of the live-action remake has been shot in Surrey, near London’s one million-strong Asian population.
It also comes after the controversy surrounding Disney’s decision to create a new white character in the story, which is set in the Middle East.
The new character of Prince Anders – played by Billy Magnussen – has been introduced as a love rival to Aladdin, though fans of the much-loved 1992 animation questioned the need for a plot change.
Kaushal Odedra, who was employed as a stand-in for a lead actor on the film, revealed that he had seen 20 ‘very fair-skinned actors’ waiting to have dark make-up applied.
The 32-year-old, who was involved in filming last September and also worked as an extra, said: ‘Disney are sending out a message that your skin colour, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can’t be powdered on and washed off. I asked a Saudi cast member what he made of having these extras being tanned so heavily and he said it’s unfortunate, but this is how the industry works, and there’s no point complaining about it since it isn’t going to change.
‘Also, if I’d wanted to discuss it, speaking to the almost entirely white crew seemed somewhat intimidating.’
He also told The Sunday Times that white actors were even made to look Asian for crowd scenes, adding: ‘On one set, two palace guards came in and I recognised one as a Caucasian actor, but he was now a darkly tanned Arab.
‘I moved inside the marquee where there were ten extras and two were Caucasian, but they had been heavily tanned to look Middle Eastern.’
The film, which stars Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Will Smith as the Genie, was shot at Longcross Studios in Surrey and is due to be released next year.
Riaz Meer, a Bafta-nominated TV director and member of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union’s black members’ committee, said it was ‘plain wrong’ not to hire talent of the right ethnic identity and was an ‘insult to the whole industry’.
Representatives of Disney told The Sunday Times that the new film has the ‘most diverse cast ever assembled for a Disney live-action production’. They added: ‘More than 400 of the 500 background performers were Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Mediterranean and Asian.’