Disney’s famous motion-picture Aladdin portrays Arabian and South Asian countries as ‘easily’ confused or merged as one. I mean they are entirely the same, aren’t they?
Disney is apparently not aware that tigers are not found in the Middle East but are usually common in South Asia, particularly in places such as Bangladesh, Burma, Pakistan and so on. The only way a tiger would end up with Princess Jasmine is if the tiger was exported. Yet, the more likely reason for Jasmine having Rajah as a pet is that Disney does not have its facts straight. Camels are the more believable choice.
Let us discuss Jasmine. Jasmine is dressed like a belly dancer when in actuality, most (not all) Arab women tend to imitate Mary’s modest style, mother of Jesus. This includes loose garments that cover a woman’s entire body. This is generally still the case today. The only difference between Mary’s fashion choices and an Arabian Princess would be that Mary’s choices would have included humble fabrics and simple embroidery; Jasmine would have silks and rich decoration. Nevertheless, Jasmine’s and Mary’s style would still have been modest.
Now, this is where I am at war with myself. On the one hand, I think it is lovely to give a Disney princess a very different dress from traditional full-length Disney gowns, one that challenges the idea that princesses dress modestly. I believe that Jasmine’s sense of dress is a refusal to let the patriarchy dictate what she will wear. Although I am sure, this is not what Disney was aiming.
Jasmine Versus Disney Princesses
Disney studio has utilised the Orientalist eye to present Arab culture as highly sexualised through the depictions of belly dancers. Although I admire belly dancers, Arab culture does not, and their Princesses do not dress as such. Why are Arab women seen as exotic and sensual? Belly dancing did indeed stem from the Middle East, but it was not their only brand image. There are many times belly-dancers are depicted; Genie introduces them through his first song, and then we see them in ‘Prince Ali!’ music. Cinderella did not have a dress that accentuates her every curve, nor did she have a low-cut dress. Cinderella, Snow-White, Aurora, – these fairytale characters did not have cleavages that were clear as daylight. So, why is Princess Jasmine’s dress so revealing?!
Belle, a French princess – is fully clothed and guess what, no stomach is shown. Merida – a Scottish princess, the fiercest Disney princess ever has no cleavage whatsoever. Merida is possibly more effervescent than Jasmine, yet she is not sexualised. Both Jasmine and Merida are aimed at young children. Both these films encourage young girls to set out and find their own path. Even if that is in romantic love or standing independently, yet these other princesses are not made to be exotic and sensual. Why? Because Merida is White, she is from a country Westerners are familiar. Merida, nor any other Disney princesses I have mentioned, are portrayed from an orientalist lens that aims to pervert other countries. Racist attitudes become evident through the clothing adorned by Jasmine.
Colourism is about to pop its rear end into this informative rant.
Jafar is given features that are not terrifying in real life but are drawn to look terrifying in Aladdin. These features include the stereotypical big beards, long bushy eyebrows, and hooked noses. Can you guess which men have these characteristics? It is the villainous characters that all have these features, the darker-skinned ones. What? No way! I was shocked Disney studios would use horrific stereotypical features to represent non-western races. This is strange because Arabs have extremely diverse characteristics with some Arabs having lighter skin and darker skin. Disney should have been more mindful of this.
Continuing on, so I do not get executed or put on a dead pool.
Jafar makes Jasmine into a makeshift forced-harem girl. The reason Arabians had harems which were not for some sexual patriarchal reason. It stemmed from compassion. When a woman’s husband would die, she would marry another man—a breadwinner that could look after her and her kids. Harems were used to introduce defenceless women into a family that could protect them, as women did not have power (this is still a world-wide problem folk). Harems were not meant for sexual exploits. Disney got this so wrong. I have not seen any other Disney male or female character do this. I do not remember Ursula making Ariel a sexual slave when she literally had the power to do so. Even Rapunzel, who was kidnapped by a crazy woman and locked up from society, was not used for sexual exploits. I am not saying all Arabians or people of colour are saints – that is up to the person, not the race. Yet, why is it, in this children’s animation, specifically, an image of Arabia or people of colour has been allowed to be presented like this? Again, make it make sense. We discuss the 1992 animation, the original movie thousands of children, grew up with and will continue to grow up with.
Why is any of this important? While Aladdin is an exceptional children’s film that is enjoyed by all ages, it does not represent the respective communities in the Middle East (which Aladdin is based on) and South Asia (the cultures that shouldn’t be found in Aladdin). Some of you may think this is not important, but we begin to question why orientalist countries all mashed together to form one Oriental idea? Ideas that are misguided and ignorant, maybe border-line arrogant. This Western idea which deems the value of people who are not them as nothing worth correcting or even researching correctly. In Aladdin, both women and men are unconsciously attacked. Or was it a deliberate attack?