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Mena Massoud is a Copt, which isn’t Arab. Both Copts and Arabs would be upset at the conflation (to say the least). The Mughals, the ruling dynasty whose architecture style inspired the Aladdin movie, were not Arab or Indian. They were Persianized Turks. So why would Naomi Scott suffice? The story wasn’t written in English, so why are they making it with English speakers?

Now, I don’t actually care who gets cast or why, because they are actors playing a role in a movie about a fairy tale. But this is the line of thought that naturally follows when someone has a nebulous standard of authenticity in the media that they want to consume. One of the big recentish movies that showed brown people was Slumdog Millionaire, which featured actors playing characters that didn’t share their religion. The movie is set in a country with a history of violent religiously motivated mass murders, their current Prime Minister was complicit in one of those pogroms.

This is the problem with the liberal conception of cultural appropriation and ultimately liberal identity politics. It’s using a surface signifiers to vent frustration instead of targeting efforts that could change real things. Complacency about Obama being black regardless of the policies or work of politics led directly to the conditions that allowed someone like Trump to come to power.

The reason for the story of Aladdin’s resonance is that it is a poor kid who marries a princess that falls in love with him. He transcends the shackles of his birth, but it takes magic to make happen. With upward mobility being what it is, that’s the kind of story that can and will placate people into not demanding more for themselves. And all the while, Disney’s stock rises.

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