When Mena Massoud first landed the highly coveted role of Aladdin in Disney’s new remake, the media was quick to point out point out the similarities between the Egyptian-Canadian actor and the famed animated character. After announcing that they would be reviving the 1992 classic into a live-action film, Disney had a highly publicized search for the perfect fit for their lead—but it wasn’t just about finding someone “charming and self-deprecating” who could also sing, dance and parkour around their fictional Middle Eastern set.
Audiences are (finally) demanding to see accurate and meaningful representation on screen and studios (again, finally) are taking notice. Looking at the top 100 films that came out last year, 28 of them featured actors from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups in a lead or co-lead role, according to research from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Set in the fictional land of Agrabah, the live-action remake of Aladdin, which is now playing in theatres, was a huge opportunity to bring more actors of colour into the spotlight.
“We really wanted to find people who were culturally true to the part, either someone of Arab descent or from the Middle East and the surrounding region,” producer Jonathan Eirich said in a press statement. This involved a year-long search viewing 2,000 actors from London to Egypt to Abu Dhabi to India. And from that search, they found their “diamond in the rough”: 27-year-old Egyptian-born, Markham, Ont.-raised Massoud.
Given the buzz around Massoud’s casting, and the push for more inclusive stories in Hollywood, FLARE sat down with the actor to find out if he had three wishes for representation in Hollywood, what would they be? Here’s what he had to say.
Wish One: Equal representation for all
Massoud notes that pushing for better inclusion in Hollywood must happen in steps. “First we have to get to a point where we are representing all ethnicities and all cultures as equally as possible,” he said. “So we definitely try and do that in this film. We’re representing the Middle East and Asia and Europe.”
Wish Two: Colour-blind casting
For his second wish, Massoud hopes for executives to get to a place of equal opportunity.
“I would wish we would get to a place of colour-blind casting, where it didn’t matter what colour skin you are, where you came from, anybody could play anybody and we didn’t judge it,” he says. “I think as long as you look like a historical figure as an actor, you should be able to play them—but I think we’re a ways away from that.”
Wish Three: Do away with reviews
His third and final wish is less specific to the issue of representation in media and more of a hope for the industry to put less weight on a film’s scores and reviews, like those provided on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Finally I would wish that—I don’t know—that we would all go see films and not have to rate them or score them or anything like that,” he says. “Art is very subjective and having to put numbers on it seems counterintuitive.”
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