Disney has been criticized after higher-ups at the company admitted that it “browned up” white actors to play extras while filming the live-action remake of Aladdin.
The Daily Mail reports that the film, starring Will Smith as the Genie and directed by Guy Ritchie, is filming in the United Kingdom at Longcross Studios about 30 miles from London.
Despite the filming location’s proximity to London, Disney said the company was forced to use white actors to play background roles such as stunt performers, “camel handlers,” and dancers.
Kaushal Odedra, 32, a stand-in actor for one of the lead roles, told the Sunday Times of London that he saw up to 20 “very fair skinned” actors lining up outside make-up tents “to have their skin darkened.”
“Disney [is] sending out a message that your skin colour, your identity, your life experiences amount to nothing that can be powered on and washed off,” Odedra said.
Disney responded to its critics by saying that the Aladdin remake is Disney’s “most diversely cast” production in the company’s history.
“Great care was taken to put together one of the largest, most diverse casts ever seen on screen,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
The company added that although they hired 400 to 500 background actors of Indian, African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Asian descent, they used white actors who wore brown makeup to fill about 100 roles.
The live-action version of Aladdin is a remake of the 1992 animated Disney classic set in the fictional Middle Eastern city of Agrabah and partially based on the Arabic folktale One Thousand and One Nights.
British-Indian actress Naomi Scott stars as Jasmine and Egyptian-born Canadian Mena Massoud plays the role of Aladdin in the upcoming remake.
The film is expected to be released in May.