As a child, Aladdin (1992) was one of my favourite movies. It taught me lessons like not letting social classes define you and that wealth shouldn’t change who you are. Let’s not forget that that every race which isn’t Caucasian is inferior and, often, evil.
Hold up, that escalated quickly, didn’t it?
Looking at the history of media, Western entertainment has often been at the expense of other races or cultures. Take, for instance, ‘blackface’ humour which was popular during the 19th century which wasn’t a good time to be black- millions of Africans were enslaved by Americans. According to Mahony (2009), “a style of theatre known as ‘minstrel shows’, in which actors would dress like ‘black people’ by exaggerating the size of their lips, wearing torn clothes and using burnt cork or shoe polish to blacken their faces, began to emerge as a popular form of entertainment.”
During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, it dawned on people that ‘Blackface’ humour “was politically incorrect, any hint of blackface humour has become the subject of widespread public criticism” (Mahony, 2009).
Yet, we don’t see a problem with our children watching Disney movies like Aladdin.
The first lines spoken in Aladdin, “Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place… where they cut off your ears if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home” summarise in a nutshell the movie’s not-so subtle message: that Arabs are a separate, inferior, sub-human race.
The shop merchant who persecutes Aladdin for the theft of a loaf of bread declares: “I’ll have your hands for a trophy, street rat!” Similarly, Princess Jasmine takes an apple from a store to give to a peasant child and the shop owner raises his sword menacingly, prepared to decapitate her arm immediately on the street.
The depiction of violence as normal in the Orient is further substantiated by the Sultan’s acceptance of Jafar’s claims to have killed Aladdin. Calling the incident an “outrage”, he says simply that he wishes to “put this whole messy business behind.” Violence, therefore, is not only commonplace in the Middle East, it is trivialised as “messy business”- an occurrence unworthy of distress.
Perhaps, as Aladdin suggests, it’s time for “a new fantastic point of view.”
Aladdin, 1992, John Musker and Ron Clements, USA, Disney Pictures.
Mahony, Melanie. (2009). ‘What’s all the fuss about “blackface”?’. Crikey. http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/ 10/08/crikey-clarifier-whats-all- the-fuss-about-blackface/.