When Disney Theatricals announced that they were bringing Aladdin to Broadway, I was ecstatic. Finally a musical on Broadway about Middle Eastern people and culture. Middle Eastern actors would have the opportunity to play a wide variety of roles: the ingénue, the hero, the villain, the funny sidekick. Instead of the stereotypical roles we are always cast in: the taxi driver with one line, the belly dancer with no lines. I was so excited that Middle Eastern culture and actors would be represented in such a beloved story and to such a wide audience.
Imagine my shock when the full cast was announced. There are 34 people in the cast of Aladdin. Zero are of Middle Eastern descent.
If there was a production of “Mulan” on Broadway, and zero Asian actors were cast, the entire Broadway community would be up in arms. Especially the community of Asian actors and the AAPAC. Why is it different for a show taking place in the Middle East?
Now I know one might argue: “Aladdin” takes place in “Agrabah” which is a fictitious city in the Middle East. Yet, the show is very clear that it takes place somewhere in the Middle East. Middle Eastern culture, practices, dress, and even Arabic words are used in the show. The opening song of the show is called “Arabian Nights.” Therefore, whether or not “Agrabah” is a real city in the Middle East or not, there is no denying that writing of the show proves that it does take place in the Middle East.
When audition notices came out for “Aladdin”, every character’s description said “Any ethnicity.” As much as I appreciate the open casting process, this show is about a very specific and underrepresented ethnicity. The story of this show is based in very real and true cultural prejudices that are specific to Middle Eastern culture and upbringing.
I am 100% for casting diversity, but when a story is about race, and about a specific ethnicity, I believe that ethnicity should at least be represented. I do understand that the pool of Middle Eastern actors in NYC is small in comparison to other ethnic groups. I am not suggesting that every actor cast in Aladdin should have been of Middle Eastern descent. I am merely asking why was it not a priority to find even a handful of Middle Eastern actors to represent the culture of the show?
So I ask the creative team and producers of “Aladdin”, why? Why was it not a priority to cast Middle Eastern actors in this show? The fact that no one in the cast or creative team is Middle Eastern, almost suggests that this production is now a satire of Middle Eastern culture.
While the new cast of Disney on Broadway’s Aladdin does include some actors of color, it does not include any actors of Middle Eastern descent, notes one actor of Middle Eastern descent. Check out his full article on this exlusion at artsincolor.com