Aladdin, in its most recent adaption, merges theatre and Bollywood on the big screen. Though inundated with Indian actors who possess brown undertones (to be generous), generally have fair skin and features consistent with western beauty. The film attempts a feminist core with a nuanced Jasmine who is even more determined to emerge from her subordinate placement. The most prevalent component of the film is the hidden lessons it holds for the black viewer, or, the black voter.
To be clear, I am no way suggesting that Aladdin has any other agenda than the “diversity agenda” consistent with the society that encases it. Diversity occupies a violent space for the black collective. Specifically, contemporary diversity standards make it so that the African adjacent must attempt or perform diversity, but black spaces and black people must actually implement diversity initiatives. For example, the film appears to include a black cast member through Will Smith, but the black character is also the only one to pursue a love interest outside of this demographic; thus, the film (directed by Guy Ritchie who is a white man), must only pretend to seek a diversity that Smith’s character must implement.
Diversity takes on a very different manifestation with regards to the film’s targeted audience. Particularly, Aladdin targets adults seeking nostalgia and kids seeking “magic.” The film aims to to penetrate its audience’s psyche with a discourse on westernized ideals veiled by non-European bodies. This discourse, as it so often does, manifests in color.
For example, though Jafar, the Sultan’s advisor, has the same skin color as the rest of the cast, he remains paired with the color black. He has dark facial hair that covers the lower and sides of his face, wears dark clothing, and when he is temporarily Sultan, the kingdom becomes blackened in its presumed evil. This not-so-subtle color narrative is of course not unique. Child favorites like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King also assign dark colors and ambiance to its villains implementing a silent discourse on white superiority withered in a color narrative.
Will Smith, as the film’s genie, appears to anchor the film’s diversity initiative yet actualizes a white supremacist narrative authored in color. A black man as a genie adds another dimension to the role simultaneously exposing the ideology behind its initial conception. The genie emerges from a stimulated phallic like instrument that engenders the every wish of its master. The master-slave dynamic of course mirrors a colonized Africa, but the power contingencies also evoke a fictionalized “past.” The genie is easily the most powerful character in the film, yet his power remains circumscribed to a master. This dynamic reflects the general ideology that surrounds black talent, that black talent is best when paired with a master. This dynamic is often manifested in institutions that turn the wonder of black talent into workers employed to literally make his or her’s master or boss’s dreams come true.
Ironically, relegation is precisely what happens to Jafar, who becomes a worker when trying to supersede the genie’s power. Thus, though Robin Williams initially provided the voice for the genie, its conception seems anchored in the general perception of black people. Specifically, the genie mirrors the black friend, the sidekick, or what director Spike Lee called the “magical negro” seen in critically acclaimed films like Hitch, Bruce Almighty, and The Wedding Ringer. Even during Aladdin’s grand entrance as Prince Ali, his entourage featured the talents of black people, who though cast in the background like pictures on wallpaper, most likely went largely unseen by the audience.
The film also corresponds to a recent fixation fed to the American public, particularly the black female. The film highlights the Sultan seeking a husband for his daughter that will aid the kingdom’s agenda in maintaining its status. Though Jasmine and the Sultan are not black people, it is imperative for blacks to realize that empires seek power with their every move and marriage. Meghan Markle is part of an agenda, and those who cosign her “placement” also become a part of this agenda. Her placement in a European monarchy, like Will Smith’s placement in a European conjured tale, cast them as celebrated figures who re-present a portrait of white hegemony that appears revised by their pseudo inclusion.
Therefore, while Aladdin appears to offer a revisionist history with a female leader who marries for love and not power, the victory is for the African- adjacent woman not humankind. Blacks remain circumscribed to a traditional supporting role in ensuring the non-black lead learns his worth while teaching the black viewer to learn their place. Thus, the plot in many ways, illustrates the dynamic present in the upcoming election. Aladdin depicts blacks as the literal background to female leadership, a destiny that awaits a constituency espoused to a supporting role necessary to every earthly victory but their own.