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CAIR Calls on Movie Reviewers to Address Racial, Religious Stereotypes Perpetuated by ‘Aladdin’

Muslim civil rights group says ”˜the Aladdin myth is rooted by racism, Orientalism and Islamophobia’

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 5/21/19) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today called on movie reviewers nationwide to address concerns about racial and religious stereotypes perpetuated by the Disney film “Aladdin” scheduled for release on May 24. 

In a statement, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said:

The Aladdin myth is rooted by racism, Orientalism and Islamophobia. To release it during the Trump era of rapidly rising anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and racist animus only serves to normalize stereotyping and to marginalize minority communities.

“The overall setting, tone and character development in the ”˜Aladdin’ story continues to promote stereotypes, resulting in a perpetuation of Islamophobic ideas and images. We urge the public and film critics to scrutinize the new production of ”˜Aladdin’ in light of its historical context and today’s toxic environment for all minority communities.”

CAIR urged reviewers to address the following concerns:

  • The Aladdin story, not just the Disney film, has always been associated with depicting Arabs and Muslims as barbaric, uncivilized “others,” following a long pattern of anti-Muslim attitudes in Hollywood. Film critics should consider commentary and scholarship by experts as they review the current Disney production.

For reference see the report “Haqq and Hollywood: 100 Years of Muslim Tropes and How to Transform Them” by Pop Culture Collaborative Fellow, Dr. Maytha Alhassen as well as commentary by SmithsonianHaaretz, and Aljazeera.

  • The Aladdin Jr. play, a licensed Disney production that encourages elementary school children to perform a rendition of the play, has been the source of alienation and trauma for Arab, South Asian and Muslim children and has even been removed by some school districts for not being compatible with the values of culture equity, diversity and tolerance. This comes at a time when Muslim children face bullying at twice the rate of their non-Muslim peers, as reported by a CAIR-CA study.
  • As seen through the trailer, the racist themes of the original animated cartoon seemingly reemerge in the live-action remake, despite efforts by Disney to address the concerns from 25 years ago. 
  • While the film is set in a fictional country, Agrabah, the location will clearly be perceived as Middle Eastern, Muslim or the “Orient,” leading viewers to make the resulting associations with Muslim Arabs. In fact, a PPP survey in 2015 found an alarming number of Republicans and Democrats alike being in favor of bombing Agrabah.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the story is not originally found in the Middle Eastern literary tradition of “1001 Nights,” (Alf layla wa-layla) but is rather the invention of French orientalist Antoine Galland and made popular in English by Richard Burton who overly-sexualized the story to further exotify Arabs and Muslims.
  • The release of Aladdin coincides with ongoing Islamophobic content in mainstream entertainment media: Earlier this month, CAIR joined its New York chapter (CAIR-NY) in calling on producers of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (SVU) to meet with Muslim community leaders following an episode of that long-running program viewed as Islamophobic and racist.
  • Such Islamophobic attitudes in entertainment augment conspiratorial claims and fear-mongering promoted by anti-Muslim special interest groups as revealed in CAIR’s recently released a groundbreaking report, “Hijacked by Hate: American Philanthropy and the Islamophobia Network,” listing the philanthropic foundations, many of them mainstream, that were used by anonymous special interest donors to funnel almost $125 million to anti-Muslim hate groups between 2014 and 2016.

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

La misión de CAIR es proteger las libertades civiles, mejorar la comprensión del Islam, promover la justicia, y empoderar a los musulmanes en los Estados Unidos.

END

CONTACT:”¯CAIR National Research and Advocacy Director Abbas Barzegar, 202-742-6413, abarzegar@cair.com; CAIR National Research and Advocacy Manager Zainab Arain, 202-742-6410,”¯zarain@cair.com; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726, ihooper@cair.com

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