Aladdin and Orientalism

I don’t see movies in theatre often. I’m just not a movie person. However, for whatever reason, I went and saw Disney’s Live-Action Aladdin back when it came out in 2019. I enjoyed the film and didn’t think much of it afterward until this year when I was introduced to the concept of Orientalism. Before this class, I had no idea what that was or what it referred to. Now, after exploring the definition, I am now being challenged to apply this concept to a modern concept in my own life. The first thing I thought of was this film. Before class a few days ago, I thought the film and its depiction of Middle Eastern Culture was reasonable. However, I’m now beginning to think it may be a bit outdated, to say the least.

The truth is, this film is a prime example of Orientalism and proof that it hasn’t changed, even in modern times. The 1992 animated version of Aladdin was problematic itself: according to the article “Orientalism in Film: Aladdin Over the Last Century,” the film introduces the characters’ cultural backgrounds to be “barbaric and uncivil.” Additionally, minor details in the film, such as the clothing that the main characters wear, are all inconsistent with the reality of these cultures. Based on the backlash from that film, you would think that filmmakers would make more of an effort to prevent the inaccurate perceptions of the East that Orientalism amplifies. Yet, there appear to be similar problems with the second film.

The actors hired to play the main characters in the live-action film are not even Middle-Eastern actors; however, according to author Maha Albadrawi, “different cultural backgrounds are not interchangeable,” and in doing this the film is already reinforcing Orientalism and erasing culture and history. This is the first of many problems that critics found with the live-action film. Yet, they all appear to be rooted in the same way: filmmakers and producers are letting European culture influence their depictions of the Middle East. It won’t be until we, as a society, reject our inaccurate impressions and make an effort to actively engage and educate ourselves in Middle Eastern culture that Orientalism will become less relevant.