Advocates for a faithful adaptation of Aladdin can breathe a partial sigh of relief — Arab-Canadian actor Mena Massoud has been cast as the leading man in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake.
Naomi Scott, a British actress whose mother is of Gujarati Indian descent from Uganda, will play Princess Jasmine. Her casting has been more divisive online, as Jasmine is also meant to be from the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah.
The casting of Massoud and Scott was announced at the Disney convention D23 on Saturday, after months of media speculation and fan-led tweetstorms about who should and shouldn’t be chosen for the roles. Disney had been holding auditions around the globe, including in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where the call-out was for 18-22 year olds who could “sing at a Broadway level” and were “handsome” and “beautiful”.
Hollywood veteran Will Smith was also announced for the role of Genie, a character famously voiced by Robin Williams in the 1992 animation.
GET TO KNOW THE NEW ALADDIN AND JASMIN
Meet: Mena Massoud as Aladdin
Up-and-coming actor Mena Massoud said on Twitter that he’s “honoured and grateful to help bring this magical story to life once again.”
The Egyptian-Canadian star, who lives between Toronto and Los Angeles according to his Instagram, went to Ryerson University for Theatre and Acting. He joins other famous alumni from the school, including Nina Dobrev (Vampire Diaries), Eric McCormack (Will & Grace), Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Hannah Simone (New Girl) and Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little Liars).
Massoud was born on September 17, though at time of print, his age is unknown.
The casting of Massoud, an Arab actor, to play Aladdin has sparked hope for more accurate representation in Hollywood, which has been plagued with whitewashing and stereotypes.
However, Massoud got his start in the television series Nikita, where he was credited only as ‘Al Qaeda #2’.
Middle Eastern and South Asian actors in the West have long spoken out against these roles. Riz Ahmed (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Night Of) said he would “rather be broke” than play another role credited as “terrorist No. 3”.
Massoud also starred in Open Heart as Jared Malik and Jack Ryan as Tarek Kassar. He will be in the upcoming American noir-thriller Strange but True as a character named Chaz.
Massoud’s birth country of Egypt has a rich history of cinema, with famed actor Omar Sharif being one of the few crossover stars who made it in Hollywood, too. Award-winning Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek is the most prominent young actor of Egyptian descent in Hollywood today.
Meet: Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine
Naomi Scott is “so excited to be a part of this adventure,” according to her Twitter page.
A fresh face in Hollywood, the 24-year-old actress recently became known as the Pink Ranger, a.k.a. Kimberly Hart, in the 2017 Power Rangers film.
But she originally got her start in Disney, starring in the Disney Channel teen musical Lemonade Mouth and the television series Life Bites.
Scott also has a background in singing — a requirement for Jasmine, who will have to belt a few tunes on screen. She released her debut EP Invisible Division in 2014, and two years later released a follow-up EP titled Promises.
Interestingly, Scott had been cast as Ryoko in the Matt Damon film The Martian, but her scenes were cut from the final version.
She’s currently in the running for a Teen Choice Award for her role in Power Rangers (the ceremony will take place on August 13), and recently told Teen Vogue it’s great to see more female superheroes in Hollywood.
“Hopefully for girls now, it won’t have to be a conversation. It’s just like, ‘Yeah, cool. I can be a superhero.’ It’s about all of us, and it’s not about gender, so hopefully that’s what the message the movie portrays,” she said.