Aladdin's Trailers Are Hiding the Film's New Character


Disney has now released three trailers for the live-action Guy Ritchie-directed remake of Aladdin. While we're sure to see more clips and TV spots in the two months leading up to its May 24 release, it seems Disney has figured out its marketing strategy with the latest trailer: Lean into the elaborate spectacle and classic songs to build excitement while hoping either CGI fixes or simply prolonged exposure makes sure audiences are no longer freaked out by Will Smith's Genie.

What doesn't seem to be in their marketing strategy is showcasing Billy Magnussen, the token white man in the cast playing the new character Prince Anders.

billy magnussen

Magnussen, best known for playing Ryan in Game Night and one of the two princes in Into the Woods, has described Prince Anders as a suitor for Princess Jasmine who has traveled to Agrabah from the fictional Scandanavian country of Scanland. Guy Ritchie told Entertainment Weekly that Anders is one of a few "princes that are not as sophisticated as Jasmine, but nevertheless, they look good on paper."

However significant a role Anders plays in the new film's story, he's not being showcased in the advertising at all, presuming he's not the prince that the Genie summons in the latest trailer who screams "Y'all see my palace?" in the background.

Aladdin prince summoning scene

Prince Anders wasn't in the 1992 animated movie. There weren't any white characters in that movie at all (though there were many white voice actors, which is its own can of worms we don't need to analyze right now). When it comes to casting the characters from the original movie, this remake has been casting accurately. Almost all the main characters are being played by actors of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. The notable exceptions are Will Smith as the Genie and Alan Tudyk as Iago, and they're both playing non-human characters for whom ethnicity doesn't matter at all.

Disney's been sensitive about avoiding whitewashing scandals for a while now. The only such issue a Disney-released blockbuster has had in recent memory was with the Ancient One in 2016's Doctor Strange, which was admittedly a politically complicated situation. Nevertheless, it does seem like the studio, at least at one point, might have been apprehensive about releasing a live-action film without any white characters. Even Black Panther featured Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis as its "Tolkien white guys."

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The initial script purchased for the studio's live-action Mulan remake anachronistically focused on a white man who comes to China and falls in love with Mulan. After vocal outrage from the Asian-American community, Disney hired Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver to rewrite Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin's script and remove the white male lead.

Prince Anders seems to be a minor enough part not to provoke the same outrage the Mulan script did. It certainly seems unlikely for a Scandinavian prince to be hanging out in Arabia in the Middle Ages, but at least Aladdin is already going for an anachronistic, historically inaccurate fantasy world, unlike Mulan.

That said, while it might not be an outrage, might it be an embarrassment? Audiences were already fine enjoying the story of Aladdin without white people in 1992, so why does it need to include white people in 2019? It would be one thing if Disney really thought it needed a white guy to sell the movie. Perhaps it did years ago when development began on this film. Judging by the advertising thus far, though, Disney clearly doesn't feel it needs to use Anders to sell Aladdin. Frankly, it seems like the studio might be nervous what the public will think about this seemingly needless token character.

Directed by Guy Ritchie, Aladdin stars Mena Massoud, with Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, Will Smith as the Genie, Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, Navid Negahban as The Sultan, Alan Tudyk as Iago, Nasim Pedrad as Dalia, Billy Magnussen as Prince Anders and Numan Acar as Hakim. The film arrives in theaters May 24.

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