Response Post: Princess Jasmine, the Exotic Other
As discussed in Joel’s article, the Orientalist view as presented by Edward Said- that being European and North American cultural media viewing Middle Eastern peoples through the lens of Orientalism, limiting the “Orientals” to a primitive, exotic other (Klassen 133)- is presented among many depictions of popular culture in the media. One of them is found within Disney- one of the largest and most influential American multinational mass media corporation- with a target audience which is primarily children. In the history of Disney, the Disney princesses and princes were predominantly white. However, the introduction of Princess Jasmine from the film Aladdin in 1992, introduced the first princess of color and a heated debate which still continues regarding the inappropriate and cultural-oriental depictions of the princess, and this film.
When I came across Joel’s reference to the Canas article that stated through the orientalist viewpoint, Muslim women are stereotyped as submissive, oppressed by their religion, and exotic (Canas, 195–196) the first thing that came to mind was the depiction of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin. Looking back at the popular Disney movie now, I noticed many things that my childhood eyes did not catch. There are many problematic concerns with how Princess Jasmine not only represents a Middle Eastern princess, but also the Arab culture and Islamic traditions in a distorted and Oriental representation.
Jasmine’s physical appearance is one that differs from any Disney princess that came before her. Her toffee colored skin, long hair, big gold earrings and skimpy clothing consisting of harem pants and small midriff baring top instantly made her physically different from previous princesses adorning the traditional ball gown. What is ironic is that Jasmine’s attire does not represent the Middle Eastern, and therefore predominantly Muslim society, she comes from. Instead, this Western depiction creates an inaccurate and sexualised image of the Oriental woman.
The film uses many mechanisms to create this distinct division between familiar and exotic. Within the opening scenes, a Bedouin in the desert appears on screen with a song called “Arabian Nights” with lyrics that include,
“I come from a land,
“From a faraway place,
“Where the caravan camels roam.
“Where they cut off your ear
“If they don’t like your face.
“It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”
These caricatures of Arab Muslims create negative stereotypes with which Hollywood and the media presents Arabs and Muslims as violent, hostile, primitive, and grotesque. This is evident in the film, which creates many references to beheading and in one scene even willing to chop off the hand of a woman who steals an apple for a hungry child.
The film also portrays women as being passive and oppressed, forced to stay within the walls of their home, and in this case, befriending animals as a means of companionship. This imagery reinforces the stereotypes which Muslim woman have to face on a daily basis through subliminal depictions in main stream media. The reliance on an essentialized, singular representation of Arab and Muslim culture functions to justify colonization and military action (Klassen 133), allowing for a Westernized depiction of the Orient.
Disney Princesses are arguably the most pervasive heroines in Western culture, making them incredibly influential in the eyes of the young audience who adore them. These children are highly impressionable and are exposed to these negative stereotypes, creating a lens through which they then view the East specifically Arab culture and Muslim traditions in this case.
Cañas, Sandra. “The Little Mosque on the Prairie: Examining (Multi) Cultural Spaces of Nation and Religion. Cultural Dynamics 20 (2008): 195–211.
Klassen, Chris. Religion & Popular Culture: A Cultural Studies Approach. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.