The Problematic Feminism of Aladdin (2019)

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Among the controversies and Will Smith memes, I found the live-action remake of Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ shockingly good. The visuals were stunning, the storytelling was surprisingly fresh, and the magic carpet was… magical. Will Smith did an amazing job portraying the genie, despite the uncertainty that arose after the first trailer. I’d like to think that it was mostly caused by its timely release right after YouTube Rewind, in which Will Smith played an unarguably awkwardly-cast role.

Of course, with a new ballad titled ‘Speechless’ sung by female lead Naomi Scott who plays Princess Jasmine, the movie has a heavy focus on the theme of female empowerment.

Albeit, I would not completely discount this move as merely a weak ploy to sell victimhood culture to an impressionable young female audience.

Conditionally, I thought it was very tactfully addressed.

The movie is set in an environment where women are actually seen as unequal and subservient to men. Princess Jasmine is told several times that she should be ‘seen and not heard’, hence the song, ‘I won’t go speechless.’ In this context, the feminist messages are extremely relevant.

However, if you consider the actual audience of the movie, many, if not most of the young girls watching it probably live in countries that aren’t governed by sharia law, and while these feminist messages can be empowering and inspirational, they can easily be taken the wrong way in this liberal, quasi-progressive dominated cultural temperature. They may in fact encourage a false sense of victimhood amongst girls who are not in fact being oppressed by their societies. This goes for any sort of feminist messages in this day and age. If we could only donate some feminism to the Middle-East, that might just bring balance to the universe.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

Despite these criticisms, I did deeply appreciate the feminist-appeasing plot twist at the end where Princess Jasmine becomes the Sultan instead of Aladdin. It made perfect sense. Right from the beginning, the movie portrayed Jasmine as someone perfectly capable of succeeding the throne, having studied the law and the ways of the land for years in hopes of becoming the next ruler, hence it didn’t feel like a cheap feminist twist simply for the sake of it.

In the original storyline, Aladdin becomes the Sultan upon marrying the princess. This would be a normal ending for an animated Disney movie. But this being a live-action remake, the incoherency of this conclusion would definitely become more apparent.

How could some vagabond thief, a ‘street rat’, know the slightest about ruling the kingdom of Agrabah? After all, as the genie said, while he could turn Aladdin into a prince on the outside, he was still the same on the inside. Therefore, it would indeed make perfect sense for Jasmine to become successor to the throne.

This was just one of the several plot changes that were made to the storyline that actually made the movie more enjoyable as a live-action movie. Nothing was too predictable, and yet nothing was too cringe-inducing.

This was overall a fantastic movie that didn’t go overboard with the feminism, and empowered women in a way that didn’t require the degradation of men and masculinity. But just as how a John would not respond to the call of “Peter”, I hope that people will be able to discern whether or not a message is actually intended for them or a group more in need.

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