The main three actors for the upcoming Live Action Aladdin. Image Source: Variety

Phoenician Ethnography and African Indians

A mixed Race Perspective.

This is an update to a previous Article I wrote on Medium: You can find that thing here!

I thought my goal was to use Medium to write about Video Games? Oh Well. Maybe eventually. Aladdin was a video game once or twice after the cartoon, so this totally counts. Anyways! Aladdin was cast at D23! And it wasn’t that Bollywood performer. (Still hoping that said announcement is for Jafar. We’ll see though). But Aladdin! He’s an Egyptian man from Canada! This makes me very happy!

We also got a Jasmine, and things start to get a bit more dicey there. She’s half white (pretty bad), but she’s also half Gujarati Indian (my feelings are complicated on this). On face value I’m very annoyed. This is not the Middle Eastern actor we were promised. But, her mother’s family’s roots are in Uganda, not India.

My knowledge of African history is pretty bare bones. However I know enough to know that to equate the history of India with the history of Uganda would be far too simplistic and reductive. At risk of being reductive due to my lack of expertise, let’s summarize how an Indian population found its way into Uganda in the first place.


Indians leaving Uganda during the expulsion of 1972 Photo Credit: London Evening Post

Let’s be brief as this is mostly an exercise in grounding my perspective for you, dear reader. People of Indian descent were forced to migrate to Uganda at the end of the 19th Century. British Colonists at the time wanted to use them chiefly as a go between between the Uganda people and their own merchants. A sort of middle class, enslaved to an identity and a cause, other-ed twofold and then once Britain began to to back off of its colony ways in the 20th Century, left to fend for themselves. A rift built between these carted people and the Africans who’ve always lived there.

Tensions existed for years, the Indian families not officially living as citizens within Uganda. As the government began to sort that out and began to approve applications for citizenship for numerous Indian families, the tensions came to a head as all Asians were deported from the country. Ultimately, those with approved citizenship were allowed to stay, but many did not.

Now obviously this does not make Naomi Scott of Middle Eastern Descent. Her Family is still of Indian origin, but I think I feel a connection to this feeling of displacement. Not only am I also biracial, and it feels validating to see another light skinned biracial actor take on an important role to me, I’m also reminded of a struggle in validating my Arab identity due to discourse around Lebanon.

Often, modern Christian Lebanese people will deny their Arab identity, claiming that to be Lebanese and Christian is to be a descendant of the Phoenicians. For me, this translates to various white people in my life denying that I’m Arab because of this. “Oh no, you’re Caucasian, because Lebanon is populated by the Phoenicians”, and various other quotes attempting to quickly and fully delete my identity and history, and sometimes, partially succeeding. So, my heart, as a biracial Lebanese Christian living in Canada calls out to people like Naomi Scott. It calls out to people with a debated background and a gatekeeper standing between them and their sense of home.

I’ve never understood loyalty to individual actors, but between her Performance in Power Rangers, and my learning this ethnic history, I’m beginning to develop a bit of my own. So, if you’re wondering, I think it’s still very valid if people are upset that Naomi was cast. Though, to call her white is categorically false. This is still a loss for Arab representation. But personally, still a win for people of colour. A win for me. Phoenician Ethnography and colonialism be damned.

BONUS OPINION

I’ve heard people are mad that Will Smith isn’t Arab, but he’s playing the Genie? I haven’t seen direct anger, but it’s above my wheelhouse. Genie’s come from Islam and that’s really the end of my knowledge on that. I’m happy the actor is a PoC and a high profile one that will generate a lot of buzz with people who don’t know these other two actors. Beyond that, I just hope most of the extras and bit characters are Arab men and women.

I will most likely see Live Action Aladdin now.

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