Director Guy Ritchie, who gave us the disappointing King Arthur: Legend of the Sword this year, is set to direct the highly anticipated live action remake of the beloved 1992 animation Aladdin. However, rumour has it he's having trouble casting the right talent for the title role. So we thought we'd help!
First we have to admit, putting this list together was even more challenging than putting together a list for Mulan. While there are comparatively few Asian-American actors to choose from, there are even fewer Middle Eastern or Indian actors and actresses working in Hollywood. Which, considering it's 2017 and there's more global interaction than ever, is a little silly. (Hello? Life of Pi? Bend It Like Beckham? The Hundred-Foot Journey? It's not like a movie with diversity means it will do badly at the box-office. In fact, if the Fast and the Furious franchise is any indication, they do better!)
So, really, Hollywood, give performers who are also people of colour more opportunities. You're one of the leading content creators and film distributors in the world, that gives you a certain degree of power. And, as we all know, power comes with responsibility. So perhaps it's your responsibility to create opportunities for people who accurately represent your audience. Then we, and you, might not be finding the casting process such an ordeal.
Anyways! Before we go completely off-topic, here are our picks for the live action remake of Aladdin:
For the lead character, we need someone talented who possesses a strong dose of boyish charm. Aladdin is also a fairly complex charater, and we'd need someone with the acting chops to portray a young man who can convincingly play both lowly riff-raff and a prince. This is one character we had the least trouble thinking of suitable actors for, so we don't understand what the problem is; but the studio is allegedly hoping to cast an unknown, which may explain the delay.
Otherwise, British-Indian actor Dev Patel, New Delhi-born Suraj Sharma, British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed or Manish Dayal, whose parents are from Gujarat in India, would all fill Aladdin' shoes quite nicely. Oh, wait, Aladdin didn't wear shoes. Erm ... vest?
The princess who wants nothing more than to see the world outside her palace. She's brave enough to stand up to bullies, smart enough to outwit a villain, and independent enough to defy her father's wishes for her to marry as quickly as possible - because she's "not a prize to be won!" - so we'd need someone fiesty and elegent for Jasmine. Indian actress Freida Pinto - Dev Patel's love interest in Slumdog Millionaire and also his ex-girlfriend - and Yara Shahidi, who is half-Iranian on her father's side, both seem like excellent choices.
This parrot-toting grand vizier to the Sultan is a man who firmly believes in keeping your friends close, and your enermies closer. Ambitious and greedy for power, Jafar wants to be sultan himself and will go to vicious lengths to get there. The 1992 film opens with the villain meeting in the desert with a thug, and ultimately causing the thug's death when Jafar urges him into the mouth of the magical tiger-cave, which literally eats him alive for being unworthy. (A little harsh?)
Not only will the live-action remake need someone devious and slimy, but he also must possess a degree of charm. No one likes a two-dimensional baddie anymore, and Disney will most likely create a back-story to explain how he became a baddie. For that, you need not only a non-two-dimensional actor, but someone who can convey layers and complex emotions. Both British-Indian actor Naveen Andrews and Heroes' Sendhil Ramamurthy, who is also of Indian descent, would carry the role well.
However, it's 2017, and Aladdin is a male-dominated feature. So why not also do a gender-bender and make Jafar a woman? In which case, might we suggest the stunning and uber-talented Miss World 2000 winner, Bollywood darling and Unicef Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra?
For this doting dad and ruler of Agrabah, we need someone who radiates kindness ... and maybe a little dopiness. Unless the writers also give him a more complex story as to why he falls for Jafar's schemes again and again, which would also be good.
For this role, we pick Indian stage, TV and film talent Adil Hussain, Lebanese actor Tony Shalhoub of Monk fame, or Irrfan Khan, who starred in Life of Pi and was born in Jaipur, India.
There was something so likeable about Jafar's wise-cracking parrot sidekick that the character even turned good in the sequel, The Return of Jafar. (But don't bother watching it.) However, will it still be as charming in a live-action remake, or will a talking animal disrupt the audience's suspension of disbelief? For that reason, we thought it might be more interesting to see this character made human.
Iago, named for the villain in William Shakespeare's Othello, needs to be as evil as his master, but with a less skewed moral compass. He is a character who tip-toes along the line between good and evil, and hilarious with it. For this complicated role, we select Canadian-Indian stand-up comedian Russell Peters (how funny would his Iago be??) and Indian-American actor, comedian, writer, director and producer, Aziz Ansari.
Captain of the Guard
This character didn't have a whole lot of screen time in the animation, but he has a lot of potential to be developed further. He's not exactly a bad guy, but because his job is to safeguard the city against thieving street rats like Aladdin, he has to harrass our hero and so ... yeah, we don't like him. However, it's clear he has ambition, and could be given many more layers and dimension.
So, perhaps someone able to easily go from fun and energetic (maybe an unconventional bromance between the Captain and Iago? Imagine the banter!) to stern at a moment's notice. Rami Malek, the Egyptian-American star of Mr Robot fame, may just be able to give this role what it needs to be a fleshed-out character. Also, isn't he pretty?
As mentioned before, the original animation has only one female character in it; unless you count Princess Jasmine's pet tiger Rajah, who could be female, but we don't know. Also, how cruel is it for Jasmine to grow up never having any real friends? ("Except you, Rajah!") With that in mind, shouldn't Jasmine have someone in the palace, a maid or lady-in-waiting of sorts, perhaps a little older than her who's been by her side all her life?
This character could either be fretful and doting, like Maid Marian's nurse in the tales of Robin Hood; or hysterically mischievous and inappropriate, who serves as the voice who says how Jasmine really feels but cannot say because she's a princess. We can just imagine the dialogue: "Are you crazy? I can't run away, my father would kill me!" "You've never been outside the palace walls. Even my life is more exciting than yours." "I'll get lost!" "There are so many hot guys in Agrabah. Getting lost is how you meet them." "The guards would find me in less time it'd take Rajah to clean a paw!" "Good thing that Captain of the Guard is handsome, too, then, isn't it?"
Disney, make it happen! And part-Indian actress Karen David, who plays Jasmine in Once Upon a Time, or hilarious Indian-American actress Mindy Kaling would both be perfect for this role. Seriously, you're welcome.
Actually, Kaling would also be great in other roles. Her sense of humour and range could easily carry across not only this lady-in-waiting character, but also Jasmine (let's have a curvy Disney princess!), Iago, or the Genie. Speaking of which, last but certainly not least ...
Let's be clear: no one, NO ONE - not even the brilliant Will Smith, who's allegedly in talks for the role of the Genie - can top Robin William's performance. (Excuse me for a minute. Bawling here.) Williams gave such a stunning voice performance, the animators worked around his improvisation to make the Genie the iconic character he is. In fact, can we just take a moment?
So, yeah. We know no one will come close to what Williams did for the 1992 animation, but we know English possible-Bond-contender Idris Elba, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson or sassy Queen Latifah are all more than capable of knocking it out of the lamp.