Pop quiz, hotshot: say you’ve made a big, colourful remake of one of your most beloved animated properties, featuring a massive cast of people of colour, many of whom from groups that are typically only cast in Hollywood as, uh, terrorists. Say that movie makes a lot of money, and you decide to make a spinoff for your new streaming service. Which character do you base that spinoff on?
If you said, “Literally anyone but the bumbling white guy,” you have gone about this very differently than Disney. That’s right: as reported by the Hollywood Reporter, a spinoff starring Prince Anders (Billy Magnussen), the bumbling and haughty prince from the kingdom of Skanland, one of Princess Jasmine’s failed suitors, is in the works for Disney+. The spinoff will be produced by Dan Lin and Jonathan Eirich, who produced the Aladdin remake, with Jordan Dunn and Michael Kvamme attached to write a script for the nascent project.
Now, let me say this carefully. It is not the case that making a spinoff series about a subjectively delightful cameo character is a bad thing, and this is not to cast any aspersion on the good name of Billy Magnussen, who is a fine actor known for such fabulous roles as a supporting turn in Game Night, a fine film, or in that one Star Trek episode of Black Mirror everyone likes. But.
It is certainly the case that the live-action adaptation of Aladdin did the right thing by casting mostly people of colour to tell a story based directly on Middle Eastern folk tales. It is also certainly the case that this doesn’t really make up for the fact that the original Aladdin was made without any such involvement from the people groups whose stories the overwhelmingly profitable film series is based on.
It’s also also most certainly the case that Middle Eastern and Arabic actors have an extremely difficult time finding roles in American media that do not cast them as racist stereotypes.
And it is certainly the case that Mena Massoud, the actor who played Aladdin in the remake, has gone on the record recently (as in, this week) stating in an interview with the Daily Beast that, since the release of Aladdin, he has not even gotten another audition, a harrowing reminder of the barriers even the most successful actors of colour face in the industry.
A series of facts that makes the existence of the Prince Anders spinoff, certainly, a bit awkward. To put it mildly.