A Whole New WTF: First Look at Live-Action Aladdin Emerges—and So Do the Jokes

Actor Will Smith films himself on the drivers parade before the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on November 25, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Actor Will Smith films himself on the drivers parade before the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on November 25, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Photo: Clive Mason (Getty Images)

Aladdin can show you the world, but first we have an entertainment magazine’s first look at an overlord’s property remake. Disney shared movie stills with Entertainment Weekly from the upcoming live-action remake of its classic animated film, Aladdin, on Wednesday.


And um, let’s just say folks were a bit... taken aback by the cover image. For various reasons.

A bit of background: As the resident Disney enthusiast at The Root (Editor’s note: I think social media editor Corey Townsend would beg to differ), I have to admit, the teaser trailer for this film had me fairly hype. The Lion King is my first love, but Aladdin is definitely in my Top 3.

But, let’s go ahead and break down the issues folks had with the first look.

The Cover Photo

I have to be honest — at first glance, it gave me Lifetime / Hallmark movie realness. I’ll reserve more concrete thoughts for that official trailer, though.

Even Lakeith Stanfield had jokes.


If We Had One Wish, It Would Be A Better Picture Of Will Smith’s Genie

Aside from criticism about the lackluster image, others wondered why Will Smith’s character wasn’t blue. Admittedly, using the existing color scheme, juxtaposing a blue figure onto it would’ve made for a horrible cover. Secondly, the CGI isn’t developed enough yet to showcase to the public. That shit takes four score and a day. Still, just about everyone was underwhelmed with the depiction. (Editor’s note: The genie is brown on Broadway... is that why they thought this would fly? Then again, he’s also fluffy.)


However, Smith cleared it up on his Instagram, confirming his character will be blue for the film via CGI, while the cover shot is of his “human / disguise form.”


“I wanted a muscular 1970s dad,” director Guy Ritchie revealed about Genie’s final form. “He was big enough to feel like a force — not so muscular that he looked like he was counting his calories, but formidable enough to look like you knew when he was in the room.”


“I think it’ll stand out as unique even in the Disney world,” Smith noted about his portrayal of the iconic character preciously voiced in 1992 by the late Robin Williams. “There hasn’t been a lot of that hip-hop flavor in Disney history.”

But, let’s talk about that lacefront chin situation, though. I’m thinking we’re sure to see someone selling it on our Instagram explore tab soon.


Also, is his ponytail trying to rival Beyoncé’s magic braid? Spoiler Alert: it can’t.


Jokes aside, the Genie’s image wasn’t even the most glaring side-eye-worthy thing to note.

Ritchie confirmed he had “an army of cultural advisers” to fix the wrongs of the 1992 animated film, which were rooted in cultural insensitivities, such as greedy market sellers and the “Arabian Nights” lyric describing Agrabah as “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.” That particular lyric has since been edited from future versions of the song.


But his next comment, though...

“The challenges that the individual has to transcend are the same for any ethnicity or culture,” noted Ritchie. “I’m loathe to shine a light on culture or color or ethnicity, because I feel as though that’s shining a light on the wrong part of the stage. The question should be, how sensitive are you towards humans?”


Did he just “All Lives Matter” Aladdin? While, yes, the film has universal themes, the people in it are distinctly brown, based on well-established Middle Eastern folklore. Shining “light” on “culture or color or ethnicity” doesn’t—nor should— take away from that relatability.

But, yeah, looking at the cover, he shined “light” (skin) on these leads, alright.


“We’ve covered almost every continent, which is rare these days, but I’m really proud to be in a film that represents so many visible and ethnically different cultures,” said the film’s lead, Mena Massoud, who pointed out that the cast diversity effectively represents Middle Eastern and South Asian worlds.

Why Is A Random White Prince Necessary?

The film’s helmer being a white guy is already troublesome. Let’s add a dash of problematic potpourri and include a white guy to the casting mix! Billy Magnussen is set to portray Prince Anders of Skånland, Norway, vying to win Princess Jasmine’s (Naomi Scott) heart.


Okay, so the animated film already had sufficient conflict: Aladdin felt the need to hide his street urchin status in order to impress Jasmine, and Jafar had his creepy eyes on her in the animated version, too. Boom, conflict. Did Ritchie simply need to toss in someone who looked like him in a world of brown people? I certainly don’t want to hear anything about the errant choice being due to its mainstream marketability, as the very-very-brown animated Aladdin was the most successful film of 1992 and grossed more than $217 million domestically and $500 million worldwide, per Box Office Mojo.


I am looking forward to Hot Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), though. Now, there’s a remake upgrade. *paints nails*


Aladdin releases in theaters May 24, 2019.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.


Not Enough Day Drinking

While, yes, the film has universal themes, the people in it are distinctly brown, based off of well-established Middle Eastern folklore

Fun fact: The Aladdin story was created by a French translator and the original Aladdin himself was Chinese with the action taking place in China. The only basis for placing the story in ‘Arabia’ was it’s inclusion in translations of One Thousand and One Nights that first appeared in the west, not the Middle East.

For starters, where does Aladdin live? Not in the Middle East. In the earliest version of the story we have, Aladdin is a poor youth living on the streets of China. And he’s no foreigner abroad either: he’s a native Chinese boy, not an Arabian youth who’s ended up in China. (Nor is he an orphan: in the earliest versions of the story, Aladdin is not an orphaned street urchin but a lazy boy living at home with his mother.) As Krystyn R. Moon notes in Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s (Rutgers University Press, 2005):

Aladdin, which most people today associate with Persia and the Middle East thanks to films such as The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and Disney’s Aladdin (1992), was one of the more popular nineteenth-century productions set in China because of its romantic and moralistic storyline and its potential as a spectacle.