“Aladdin” is usually seen as one of the most progressive Disney films. After all, it was the first to have people of color in leading roles. It depicted aspects of the Muslim faith and even showed an empowered, feminist princess bucking her duty. But now, some people are saying that the story as we know it has some rather problematic themes.
Disney fans are furious to hear “Aladdin” called cultural appropriation.
Author Scarlett Curtis recently provoked the ire of many Disney fans after she said that Disney’s retelling of “Aladdin” is racist and needs to be rewritten.
“I think something like ‘Aladdin’ is an inappropriate representation of a culture that was created completely by white people, kind of ‘Orientalizing’ this culture,” Curtis said. “You’re talking about little young girls not seeing themselves represented in the films and TV that they’re watching or seeing themselves represented badly … I think that can affect you for the rest of your life.”
Curtis said that she thinks adults should make it a priority to protect children from insensitive cultural depictions in the same way they protect them from swearing or sexual content.
Curtis says the issue stems from the film being written by white people.
Some of the issues that Curtis and others have mentioned in the 1992 film are that the main characters have American accents, light skin, and Western features, while many of the villains have Middle Eastern accents with darker skin and grotesque characteristics.
A 1992 article from the Washington Post also noted criticism of the adaptation.
“For many Arab Americans and Muslims, the film is not innocent, funny or particularly triumphant,” the article said. “Many of its characters are portrayed as grotesque, with huge noses and sinister eyes. And they are violent, willing to chop off the hand of a woman who steals an apple for a hungry child. Such caricatures exemplify the negative stereotyping with which Hollywood and the media have stamped Arabs and Muslims for nearly a century, these critics say.”
Disney has problems with whitewashing in more than one film.
“Aladdin” is far from the only Disney film that has been accused of cultural appropriation. Just three years later, Disney released “Pocahontas,” which came under similar criticism not only for its stereotyping but also for its historical inaccuracy. In Disney’s adaptation, Pocahontas is a muscular, headstrong woman who looks like she’s in her 20s. She lives a peaceful life in her village, where her friends and family live in harmony with the spirits of Mother Earth.
That’s not exactly how the story goes…
Many people consider this depiction already problematic since it digs into stereotypes of Native Americans. The adaptation also forgets the fact that the real Pocahontas was between the ages of 10 and 13 when she met John Smith. But the biggest issue that critics seem to have with the movie is that it depicts wrongdoing on the sides of both the Powhatan tribe and the English. The movie gives us a happy ending where everyone realizes their fight was just a misunderstanding.
The truth is a bit grimmer. European settlers continued to take over Native American land, with natives dying in huge numbers of alcoholism, suicide, disease, and warfare. As for the real Pocahontas, she was kidnapped and forced into marriage in England before dying at the age of 21.
Attitudes have changed since Disney’s early days.
Actress Keira Knightley recently came under fire as well for saying she doesn’t allow her daughter to watch “Cinderella” or “The Little Mermaid” because she thinks that the films are anti-feminist. Knightley said she doesn’t approve of “Cinderella” because the protagonist waits to be rescued instead of being proactive and saving herself. She thinks “The Little Mermaid” is also problematic.
“This is the one that I’m quite annoyed about because I really like the film,” Knightley said. “I mean, the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man. Hello! … I love ‘The Little Mermaid!’ That one’s a little tricky – but I’m keeping to it.”
At least no one gets murdered in this version.
While some people agree that there are problems in some Disney films, they don’t necessarily think the best way to acknowledge them is by censoring or rewriting them. Others have been quick to point out that the original fairy tales were much darker than Disney’s musical adaptations. Regardless, as time and attitudes change, we may have to revisit how we see these films.
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