Aladdin - Live Action Remake


Emoji summary: ⭕️🕳🕌

I think it’d be unfair of me to cast aside the very real and very tangible way that Aladdin was present in my childhood. When I was younger, my mum & dad went to work and would leave me with my Dada & Dadi. They’d let me run riot a bit, and I think that’s why ppl can’t really tell me anything now;;; bc when i was little, no one rly told me anything (& if they did, my Dada would say ‘dw about that, do what you want’). I was quiet, but independent & slightly wild; a nearly silent ghost j plodding around doing what took my fancy. I watched other Disney films, but they never grabbed me like Aladdin & the Jungle Book. I think part of that was that adults would present them to me differently to say — cinderella. There was an expectation that I felt more akin or parallel to those 2 films than any other & I think that’s what makes me remember them differently now. When I was a kid, if well-intentioned adults asked me ‘Do you want to be Princess Jasmine?’, I’d say, ‘no, I want to be Mowgli’.

Mowgli fit my present tense as independent, slightly wild, carefree, but quietly just doing as you please with ur scrawny self. Mowgli was Deeply Unbothered. I couldn’t relate to Jasmine’s concerns - I was never trapped, only free. I couldn’t understand that freedom was aspirational for some people rather than a continual state they just inhabited. Looking back on it now, I am very grateful to my grandparents, to my Dada for shielding me from the whims of other peoples’ expectations. I was never a true die-hard Disney kid bc I think these rules of cis-heteronormative girlhood didn’t rly apply wholly to me as a little girl. Where Disney presented a wider narrative template for a lot of their films, of being trapped & either being freed by someone else, or freeing yourself; i was already free. I have never been burdened with a strict definition of femininity quite frankly, I think that is why I sit so comfortably within my own selective definition of girl/womanhood. I can see that the way I felt gender as a child was entirely different to the way some of my friends did, that I was lucky that it was flexible for me. I am now able to opt-in temporarily without it feeling like transgression, I am able to see that it is either a performance, play or a construct; bc it has always been one. None of this is fucking radical, it’s not me distancing myself from cis-het-womanhood bc I am v much that. It is j me trying to articulate what Aladdin was in relation to, what it meant in relation to me, what it represents now I am grown. I think this is all relevant to what I am about to say.

I wasn’t expecting much from the Live-action remake of Aladdin, especially not after seeing the press photos & belly-laughing at Will Smith’s big blue self as the genie. I think I hadn’t realised the absurdity of it until it underwent a transformation from cartoon to fleshy real-life. Either that or the live-action version stayed faithful to a cartoon reality that just didn’t make sense once translated in to real-life? Either way, both the early press pics & the actual film itself was a kinda visual riot that didn’t make much sense without the flattened conditioning of 2D cartoon. There was something maybe jarring? Or uncanny in it? In its chaos of non-flatness I think it ended up looking too far off the end of Produced.

I don’t think I actually want to talk too much about the film itself - because it’s not too dissimilar from the cartoon. Some scenes are faithfully re-created shot for shot; which I FOUND QUITE STRANGE, but I’m sure others would disagree by saying that the original wasn’t wanting for anything. I’d agree with that counter-point; I think sometimes remakes go wrong looking for a deficit or a lack & try too hard to plug that gap. But I think ppl cleverer & more perceptive than me have pointed out that it’s telling that Disney are not only nervous or hesitant to invest in new stories & narratives that embrace an instability or a riskiness that other franchises still manage to do; but unwilling to allow for much creative interpretation or deviation within that.

I think that brings me on to the changes that they did make. And I am clenched when I say this; I kinda hated the new narrative of Jasmine as deeply oppressed, sad in her silence & the song sequence where she dramatically breaks off the shackles of expectation to ~’SPEAK!’~ her truth. I say this as someone who values my own ability to ~’SPEAK!’~ & someone who rly rly fucking values the freedom I have had as a given my entire life. That is an inalienable right, that’s not the core of why that song felt sticky to me. I think it’s bc of who was deploying it & the way that narrative then sat in a cultural context that is not as generous as you or me. Obviously Aladdin is already an Orientalist nightmare. It almost feels inappropriate or like bad faith to lay it parallel to a political framework bc the terms of engagement there are so uneven. As a narrative it can never be reconciled with that political framework tbh! So to then see the insertion of a supposedly progressive attempted proto-feminist narrative felt like a gut-punch; because it’s already alongside a political narrative that it’s almost completely incompatible with. Jasmine’s feminist resurgence feels like it burrows deeper into an Orientalism that is more contemporary - of Tommy Robinson & the right wing dogwhistles that the East is responsible for a level of misogyny that the west is innocent of. That ~those muzlamics~ treat women like objects (a line that Jafar iterates to Jasmine in the film), like they themselves are paragons of feminism, washing their hands of their own complicity in misogynistic violence towards women, inclusive cis & trans, & non-binary ppl added on top. I hesitate to point to my own childhood as an example of this as fallacy; bc I know that ppl have had & continue to have conservative upbringings where their restriction is bound to a religious line. But mine was bound in the same way. My Dada & Dadi were & are devout Muslims, they went on Hajj, my Dada took me with him to jummah prayers & I ran around in the men’s section of the mosque during the sermon. He told me Allah would be happy hearing my voice in his house, that he does not want to hear silence amongst his congregation, we are not there to ~be~ silent. I don’t need to tell you that Jasmine’s political narrative is deployed by a cultural institution in the context of a country that justified consecutive wars in the Middle East & beyond with a line that boils down to: ‘we must liberate the savages, by force if necessary’. I don’t need to tell you that I have never known Islam to be savage; only a radical practical application of a politics of care.

To see this, and then to see other brown twitter users posting pictures of themselves dressed AS JASMINE… Knowing that she is (& in some way, always has been) a convenient political tool… It’s not that deep, but to see people arguing over it, iterating how much she has meant to them? I think I understand that, but it does exist within this wider context (mentioned ^above^) so it is also actually deeper than our own personal feelings. Disney as a corporation (they are, after all, a corporation) are incapable of producing meaningful representation that soothes the burn of ~not seeing yourself~ in popular culture. While I sometimes get a bit shirty and didactic in repeating the line that ;REPRESENTATION IS A FALSE PROMISE, IT CANNOT EVER BE THE SUM ALL OF OUR EXPECTATIONS AND DEMANDS FOR INCLUSION AND EQUALITY, WE MUST ALSO ADDRESS OUR MATERIAL CONDITIONS BY DEMANDING A CRUMB OF EQUITY IN THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION; I can still maintain that as true, while valuing what representation does. It is just not even that good at doing that. If the representation that’s being produced is also pathologising or dehumanising the people it seeks to represent; how can that be sincere, real, productive, or progressive? Is that then representative, or is that pandering to (or more cynically, trying to cash in on) a political climate that values progressive change, but finds it easier to recognise and consume performative visible gestures over sincere investment and engagement? Why are we, in big big 2019, looking to corporations like Disney for our representation?

I found this film difficult. I felt like the bass was missing, like the volume was too low. I feel like I misremembered it from my childhood? But I don’t think I did, I think I just long outgrew my enjoyment of it. I think this take is not exceptional or bound only to Aladdin as a, tbh, kinda Othered film bc of the ethnic implications of the characters themselves. I think this take maybe can be applied to p much all Disney films of ~that~ era & maybe ~this~ era too. It’s not a ~kill all your darlings~ stance, or anti-nostalgia, burn the past, no past only present & future. I think it’s just that even when I was a kid, I was past it. I was able to enjoy it as a story or a narrative, but that’s all. Now, I think even that feels hollow.

a film poster for aladdin shows him at the centre looking down at the gold oil lamp that he summons the genie out of, Jasmine is over one shoulder looking off into the distance, and the genie is in the other looking at the camera with eyebrows raised

a tweet says desi girls and their disney princess doppelgangers, and there are side by side pictures of real girls against Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Jasmine from Aladdin, and the girl from Tangled whose name I cannot remember

a side by side image of a desi girl styled to match an image of Jasmine, with the same makeup, earrings, and headscarf

a note: she literally does look like Jasmine in this pic & framing this as cosplay is completely fine - j some of the replies made me think that Jasmine being deployed as representation means something else too (as mentioned in the text)