Everyone loves a handsome Disney prince — except, perhaps, under these circumstances. On Friday, December 6, Disney announced plans for a live-action Aladdin spinoff centered on Prince Anders (Billy Magnussen), described by The Hollywood Reporter as an "overdressed" and "dim" member of the royal family from the fictional Skanland, who competed for the affections of Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). According to the outlet, Magnussen actually approached producers with the idea for a Prince Anders-spinoff, based on the character and his fictional home country.
However, the announcement was met with quite a bit of backlash on social media, as the news came just a few days after Mena Massoud, the Egyptian actor who played Aladdin in the 2019 remake, told The Daily Beast that he has not had a single audition since Aladdin was released. "I’m kind of tired of staying quiet about it," Massoud told the outlet in a December 3 interview. "I want people to know that it’s not always dandelions and roses when you’re doing something like Aladdin." In fact, he added, despite the film's massive box office success, "I haven’t had a single audition since Aladdin came out."
Though Massoud made it clear to The Daily Beast that he wasn't expecting Aladdin to make him a household name — and noted that he was simply grateful for the opportunity to play the Disney prince in the first place — he wanted to be open about his career struggles. "I’m sitting here being like, 'OK, Aladdin just hit $1 billion. Can I at least get an audition?" Massoud said. "Like I’m not expecting you to be like, here’s Batman. But can I just get in the room? Like, can you just give me a chance?"
Naturally, the idea of a white actor getting a spinoff franchise while the leading actor of color is struggling to even land auditions for projects didn't sit well with people on Twitter:
While many fans on social media pointed out that the comparison between Massoud and Magnussen is unfair, as the Prince Anders spinoff will be released on Disney+, rather than on the big screen, diversity is still majorly lacking in Hollywood. According to Essence, a 2018 study conducted by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and her team at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reported that diversity in Hollywood hasn't improved at all over the past decade. Furthermore, the Annenberg's 2018 report, "Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films," stated that there has been no significant change in representation for women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, or people with disabilities within the entertainment industry from 2007.
Those numbers are especially depressing when audiences consider that movies with a more diverse cast do better at the box office, according to a 2017 report from Creative Artists Agency. While all of Disney's recent live-action remakes have been box office successes, Aladdin is notable for being "the most ethnically diverse cast to ever lead a film to the billion dollar club," according to Massoud, who shared the news on Twitter in July. Because the film did showcase so many actors of color in major roles — including Will Smith as the Genie — it seems insulting to the diverse audiences who turned out to see the movie to see a minor, white character get a spinoff project while the lead is struggling.
Massoud is currently starring in the Hulu series Reprisal, and will most likely reprise his role as Aladdin in the upcoming live-action sequel. However, fans can only hope that his decision to speak out about his lack of auditions — and their unhappiness with Disney's new announcement — will help bring Massoud and other actors of color even more opportunities in the future.