“Here’s the thing about wishes. The more you have, the more you want” - Genie

Blean Tsige

Aladdin The Movie: It Might Be Wishful Thinking To  Have No Problematic Gender Differences In Disney Movies 

Most of us 90’s born girlies have watched Disney movies and have been brainwashed with the narrative that a great boy will come and rescue us from our miseries in life. Once he appears, life will be much better, because he is a hero or the perfect Mr Prince Charming on a white horse. However, most of us have now reached the 30-year line mark, and have found no man who has fulfilled half of those duties that were illustrated in Disney Movies. The promises the characters made were not kept, and in fact, women have subsequently become the leading and independent role models to society that were not present in Disney. 

This showcases that there is no need for male character heroes as they have been depicted in older cartoons. However, there seems to be a growing trend in restoring older Disney Movies by creating a life remake of these stories. These contemporary versions of these movies seem to consistently promise that the new movie will reflect a decisive female lead. But, it seems a bit unrealistic to consider a princess story to be told without a hero male character in it. This is because the objective of a princess is to be rescued, or she needs to find a man to become the successor to lead the kingdom. It is therefore alluring to discuss the outcome of the Aladdin 2019 real-life remake compared to the Aladdin cartoon version from 1992. 


| Introduction

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term gender signifies through psychology and sociology “the state of being male or female as expressed by social or cultural distinctions and differences”. This definition of the word does not focus on the biological aspect of a person, however, it is influenced by the shared aspects or characteristics of a specific sex. This means that the differences between each sex and their attributes are determined through the outcome of a person's sex. 

But because gender and social or cultural norms are connected, each sex is required to fulfil a certain duty that has been established out of their control. This means that each gender is assigned a specific role, without the individual's input. These roles have been traditional and are considered to be essential to everyone’s community. This means as well that these roles are usually portrayed in literature or media that focus on representing cultural aspects of the world. 

However, this sort of representation has caused issues in the globe's progressive culture. This is because everyone cannot identify with the typical gender roles that are demonstrated in literature or movies. It is therefore important for literature and media to adapt to the advancement of social and cultural distinctions to portray reality even in a fictional storyline. For example, Disney movies have received heavy criticism regarding their portrayal of women as princesses who struggle without the help of their powerful hero male leader. This resulted in people labelling Disney movies as sexist, ageist and racist. Disney took it in their initiative to change that, by revamping older cartoon movies and making a live-action version of it. They have done this with more than twenty older movies. 


Figure 1. Represents the famous Disney Castle with Fireworks


In this essay, the main aim is to scrutinize the movie Aladdin's (1992) cartoon version and the recent Aladdin (2019) live-action remake. The movies are filled with controversies due to the gender differences illustrated. The gender issues are in essence discriminatory and showcase prejudice within the movie's narrative. It is important to determine the significant issues because these films are targeted at children who are demonstrated with problematic versions of cultural products, meanings, messages and most of all a flawed representation of genders. 

In order for there to be successful research conducted on gender differences it is important to reflect on the essence of gender differences. This means that it is important to distinguish between sex, which encompasses the biological differences between males and females and gender, which is the sociocultural and psychological differences influenced by societal expectations (Rich-Edwards et al., 2018). This essay will highlight mainly gender differences, which should not be confused with sex. In fact, the objective will be to give a gender-specific analysis by applying the two movies of Aladdin to reflect the appropriate adaptions that had to be made. 

The analysis will first give background information to Mark Turner's book which will aid in explaining the cultural narratives and life scripts, featuring the evolution of gender representation and the possible influences on the audience's knowledge. Next, two articles by The Guardian showcase how the Disney live-action remake movie Aladdin carries problematic cultural meaning. This corresponds to the discussion, which will highlight the essential parts of the movie. The conclusion will summarise the main points of the article, and suggest if live-action remakes are improving gender representation issues in movies. 


| Background Information 

Disney Movies have been made to tell narratives that are essentially there to give children a moral lesson. This is because Disney movies are based on fairytales that stem from older German books. These books had been written by the Brueder Grimm (Brothers Grimm), who thought it was key to explain what is necessary for children to live a happy life and become good humble people. The stories tend to represent a problem, which was solved by hardworking people and through reading the story children and sometimes grown-ups can learn a lesson from their circumstances. 

Disney has turned these fairytales into a worldwide entertainment entity. These cartoon movies have become through Disney an essential artefact, which every child must watch. It is impossible to find a person nowadays who has not seen a single Disney movie, regardless of where they live. However, it is important to question whether the morality within these movies has remained. This is because, twenty years later these movies seem to showcase to the public fundamental issues regarding their depiction of gender differences. 


Figure 2. Aladdin and the Genie as water fountains in the Shanghai Disneyland Park.


However, authors such as Turner (1996) argue that narratives hold elemental cognitive tools which are part of human evolution. He considers storytelling to be a creative tool within the human mind to make sense of the world (Turner, 1996). This means that stories are essential parts of human cognition and not solely entertainment or communication instruments (Turner, 1996). In this sense, Turner (1996) believes that storytelling are explaining complex information and comprehending cause and effect. 

Disney Movies seem to be a challenging way of storytelling since they have an immense impact on the public discourse. Turner (1996) also argues that narratives are important because they shape cultural values, beliefs and social norms. This would mean that Disney Movies have influenced children from a young age to believe certain gender roles, which might have been wrongfully represented within the cartoon movies. In that respect, Disney is setting the standards for gender differences, which they bear responsibility for. It is therefore in their best interest to change the circumstances by creating new movies. 

Turner (1996) has also mentioned in his book, that narratives influence shared knowledge and collective identity that is carried within literature, myths and legends. Disney Movies have perhaps created inadvertently gender roles, which might have impacted a whole generation of children who viewed their movies. This might have happened, instead of morality being at the center stage of the fairytale stories. This means that the false representation of genders in the Disney Movies might have impacted the world more than they could have anticipated, which is problematic. It is also difficult to imagine that Disney is able to change the narrative through a live-action remake movie. This is because essentially the story stays the same. 

The cultural and societal norms that had been established through Disney movies are vital to analyzing and understanding the core issues. Also, Turner (1996) considers narratives as an essential part of shaping human evolution. It is therefore the responsibility of Disney to not shape a generation of people who believe in certain gender roles and consequently will act out these differences. It is also important to consider those people who cannot identify with the gender roles to be represented in the movies. For them, it is hurtful to be told a certain narrative without being able to give some input, which would exclude them from the collective identity shared by many. 


| Analysis

Disney fairytale movies present issues within the gender differences that stem from traditionally established cultural and societal norms. The depiction of certain gender roles has caused children to be influenced by this narrative. This means that Disney movies have impacted the globe and somewhat shaped human evolution. Also, Disney was able to recognize their problematic stance and as a result of that they had readapted their fairytale movies. One of these movies that has been adapted through a live-action version is Aladdin. The first original cartoon version came out in 1992 and the revamping movie is from 2019 and bears the same title. The cast has also barely changed, and Aladdin is still the main character. 

An article titled “A whole new world: does the new Aladdin fetishise Middle Eastern culture?”, by The Guardian, has reviewed the existing issue in the live-action remake movie from 2019 (Rose, 2019). In the article, the focus was made on the cultural appropriation of the film and that it was made from a Western viewpoint (Rose, 2019). However, the article raises an important point regarding the cultural implications presented in the movie. According to The Guardian, the movie depicted a romanticised and exotic version of Middle Eastern culture and bears no closeness to the reality of the matter (Rose, 2019).

The movie represented the people with the wrong purpose, by overdoing their roles (Rose, 2019). The Guardian is focusing in this aspect on the cultural norms illustrated, with no specific connection to gender roles (Rose, 2019). However, it is plausible to consider their analysis of the movie to touch upon the problematic gender differences demonstrated. This is because the movie presents Aladdin and Jasmine as a Middle Eastern couple that had to fight for their love and Aladdin the male character is at the centre stage (Rose, 2019). The Guardian considered it to be an exaggerated version of love by illustrating a fetishized Middle Eastern stereotype of characters, that is sought by the West (Rose, 2019). 


"Hey, I'm a street rat, remember? I'll improvise." - Aladdin


Another article by The Guardian titled “Aladdin review- live-action remake really takes flight”, evaluated that the new version of the Aladdin movie has had some slight alterations but at its core, it maintained the same material as in the older one (Rose, 2019). The main focus of the article was to highlight the director Guy Richie’s input, and that he deserves praise for creating an original version of the movie, without dismissing the essential parts of it (Rose, 2019). It is possible to consider that The Guardian views this movie as a hit since it was able to recreate a contemporary version of an old story (Rose, 2019). Even though the Aladdin movie presents controversial cultural and stereotypical aspects, it is vital to see the movie as a fantasy version (Rose, 2019). In this sense maybe the movie should be not taken too seriously, because it is there for entertainment purposes. 

However, in comparison to Turner (1996), narratives shape human evolution. This means that even if the Aladdin movie presents a fantasy at the end it is still a fairy tale that impacts cultural and societal norms. In fact, fairytales are part of human cognition and are not only there to entertain the crowds, according to Turner (1996). So if one considers this aspect, it is challenging to consider that the Aladdin movie, regardless of its live-action remake, has had an influence on the way society views gender roles. This means that the movie impacts gender differences, even if some argue that it is merely a tool to entertain. 


| Discussion 

It is vital to discuss some parts of the movie, in order to scrutinize the fundamental issues within the two movies of Aladdin. In the following part of this essay, there will be examples presented, that showcase some problematic factors that highlight gender differences. The first examples will be from the first Aladdin movie from 1992, which is a cartoon version of the fairytale. The second example will focus on the live-action movie and its gender roles. These examples will highlight the issues through a comparison of the two movies and if there is a difference in how the genders were represented. This will aid in considering if live-action remakes have improved and therefore impacted the globe in a positive manner with less gender stereotyping. 


"How dare you. All of you. Standing around deciding my future. I am not a prize to be won." - Jasmin


The first example deals with Aladdin. He is the main character in the movie and is seen as a hero because he is poor but good at heart. He steals from the market, but he shares everything with people who have less than him, especially children. Aladdin is a character who is supposed to be sympathized with, even though he is committing crimes and is constantly lying to achieve something.

Outside of the scope of this movie, a character of his nature should be sceptical of his behaviour. This is because his actions present a devious personality. But because Aladdin is a unique character, he is made out to be a carefree fun person, who is living an exciting lifestyle. In this sense, he is considered a free person, who is not subject to law or any other person. This makes him seem as if he is stronger or more resilient than the rest and maybe that is why he is able to constantly escape guards or other responsibilities (Figure 3). 


Figure 3. Aladdin is depicting the typical hero-like features that are supposed to be sought by women.


However, Jasmine, the female lead is the complete opposite of this. She is a princess who holds power, fame and money, but it seems as if she can not utilize these tools unless she has a strong man next to her (Figure 4).  She is depicted as the damsel-in-distress trope, who is constantly in need of Aladdin’s rescue. Jasmine lives in a castle, which she cannot leave on her own will. Her character is illustrated as a boring and secluded person. In this sense, it is suggested that she cannot be considered free like Aladdin is. This might be why it seems as if she needs him.


Figure 4. Jasmine runs away from home and is immediately in trouble but her hero Aladdin is there for the rescue.


The live-action remake movie of Aladdin came out in 2019 and was promised to present an original aspect of the story. There were young actors included, except for Will Smith, the genie. These characters showcased Middle Eastern features, which is supposed to be an appropriate manner to represent the culture. However, the movie failed to do so. This is because the movie seemed to not be original in the sense that it enhanced the cultural and social issues that were present in the previous version. Instead, the contemporary Aladdin movie from 2019, changed only parts of the narrative by placing them in different timelines. This means that stereotypical gender differences could still be found. For example, in the remake, Aladdin is also rescuing Jasmine at the market (Figure 5). 


Figure 5. Jasmine and Aladdin are at the market, where she is about to be caught stealing but Aladdin comes to the rescue to protect her.


Another example of the 2019 version of Aladdin, a controversial song about women having to stay quiet because they have fewer rights had been made part of it. The song is about Jasmine trying to take over the Kingdom without having to marry another man for it. However, her father disagrees and subsequently, she has been forced to wait for the right man. The advisor of the Sultan, Jafar, overhears this conversation and approaches the princess. He advises her to follow traditions instead of going against certain rules. In addition, Jafar suggests to Jasmine that she is a woman and therefore should only be seen and not heard (Figure 6). The movie goes on by featuring a whole song about this statement, which seems excessive and just highlights the problematic rights women have in the Middle East and how men perceive them. However, it could also be argued that the song is supposed to empower Jasmine because she is singing some parts of it. She is showcasing how she is trying to free herself, by pointing out the problems.


Figure 6. Jasmine is being reminded by Jafar that she is weak and needs to not go against tradition. He advises her to stay quiet and to focus on her beauty.


The old and new Aladdin Disney movie depicts critical flaws in how women and men are perceived by the public. Even though the movie is about Middle Eastern culture and society, it still features gender differences that are present around the globe. It is also important to note that the movie is viewed by everyone in the world, which includes impressionable children. This audience might not be aware of the fact that the movie plays out in a different place than they are. This might contribute to concluding the fact that this movie might shape human evolution in a toxic way. 


| Conclusion

The Aladdin movie is one of the many controversial fairytales created by Disney. Nowadays they can be found either as cartoon or live-action remake versions. The narrative of the movies has not changed and therefore they still present problematic gender differences, which should not be taken lightly. This is because their main audience is children, who are impressionable. This means that it will influence human evolution if children from a young age are shown these gender differences. 

In conclusion, the problems arising in the Aladdin movie have been scrutinised by Turner's (1996) explanations, which highlight the role narratives carry in human cognition. The author has clarified that narratives regardless if they are myths, legends or fairytales influence human evolution. The two articles analysed here, present the cultural and societal issues presented by the Aladdin movie. It was concluded that the movie illustrated Middle Eastern characteristics from a Western point of view, instead of creating a more realistic approach.

In the end, examples were showcased that evidently demonstrate that the two Aladdin movies are at their core the same. This means that the live-action movie did not improve the presentation of certain gender roles. In fact, the remake has had another controversial feature included. This means that the movies do not aid in shaping future gender indifferences, which can have a negative impact on human evolution. 


| References

Rose, S. (2019, May 21). A whole new world: does the new Aladdin fetishise Middle Eastern culture? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/may/20/a-whole-new-world-does-the-...

Rose, S. (2019b, May 23). Aladdin review – live-action remake really takes flight. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/may/22/aladdin-review-live-action-...

Rich-Edwards, J. W., Kaiser, U. B., Chen, G. L., Manson, J. E., & Goldstein, J. M. (2018). Sex and Gender Differences Research Design for Basic, Clinical, and Population Studies: Essentials for Investigators. Endocrine Reviews, 39(4), 424–439. https://doi.org/10.1210/er.2017-00246  

Turner, M. (1996). The literary mind: The origins of thought and language. Oxford University Press, Incorporated.