Growing up, I was an obsessed Disney fan, I still am an obsessed fan, actually. However, there was that one movie which was life changing for me as a child, and it was Aladdin. I fell in love with Princess Jasmine upon hearing her name, I even begged my parents for years to change my name to Jasmine. For Disney to have a Middle Eastern princess was a life changing for me, a Middle Eastern who haven't seen one positive Middle Eastern representation in Hollywood. I fell in love with Jasmine even more as the film progressed, her rebellious personality still has an impact on me today, 15 years after I watched the film for the first time ever. And I consider her my muse hence the fact that the first time I have ever written, I wrote short stories about her and now, whenever I create female leads, I can see bits of her in them.
So, when they announced a live action version of the film, I was over the moon. And my favourite part about it was the casting call for Aladdin and Princess Jasmine going out to Middle Easterns ONLY. It even had me thinking that they are going to have a Middle Eastern writer rewrite the film to fix all the cultural misconceptions from the original film, Disney ended up hiring Emmy nominee Vanessa Taylor and BAFTA nominee John August who are both Caucasian with no relation to the Middle East or any of our cultures, and disappointing a lot of people, but that isn't the biggest disappointment yet.
The cast was announced a few days back with Will Smith providing voice for Genie, Canadian-Egyptian Mena Massoud playing my beloved Aladdin, that choice had me on cloud nine but Disney had to disappoint by casting British-Indian Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. I love Naomi and I loved her in Power Rangers so much but her casting as Jasmine was a slap to my face. It was like Disney decided to tell me that Princess Jasmine wasn't mine to feel represented by, that Middle Eastern women aren't enough to write their own stories and portray their own characters. And it is not about not finding any Middle Eastern that is good enough because I have a list of actresses that could have played Jasmine and I am sure there are a lot more girls that aren't discovered yet. Add to that the fact that Naomi shares nothing with Jasmine appearance wise. Naomi has fair skin while Jasmine has so much darker skin which is a case of colourism.
Hollywood has a history of casting South Asians as Middle Easterns, erasing both identities as we aren't interchangeable. Disney has made a huge mistake with casting Naomi Scott but it isn't Disney's mistake alone. Why would Naomi Scott audition for a role that isn't meant for her? I know how it is probably hard for her to work but that doesn't mean she gets to steal other people's chances. It is not just about Naomi, I have the same reaction to American-Egyptian Rami Malek playing legendary Freddie Mercury who is from an Indian descent.
On a final note, Middle Eastern women are more than enough, and we can do our characters more than perfect, and write amazing stories but we are not given the chance. Princess Jasmine may be portrayed by a non Middle Eastern but she remains ours and nobody can change that. Naomi is #NotMyJasmine.Suggest a correction