Disney’s Aladdin is the story of a young man described as a diamond in the rough, who finds a magic lamp and with the help of the genie marries the girl of his dreams. In the 2019 version the girl of his dreams has a mind of her own and a story arc to match.
Disney gets closed to kitsch in most of their movies and this is no different. They work hard to appeal to a broad audience and no artist creates without attempting mass appeal. With the updated role of the princess though this movie isn’t just broadening its appeal to the 51% of the world’s population. This movie also makes a statement–a significant one.
Here’s where I’m going to get in trouble.
This movie needs to be compared to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and all the more qualified people didn’t bother to make the connection.
Why The Marriage of Figaro? Because that opera isn’t just in the same genre (life events unrealistically given background music with wonderfully choreographed participants) it’s also highly political.
The book was banned because it made the monarchy look less like the authority they had and more like extremely flawed human beings–like the rest of us.
It also asked a deep question. If the king owns everything does that include my wife? That question is less significant today but very real for the generation when it was written.
Monarchy is already the subject of tabloids and end-cap magazines. It’s hard for us to envision and relate to.
Napoleon came to describe The Marriage of Figaro as “the Revolution already in action.”
Where Do We Need a Revolution?
Today our societies aren’t oppressed by monarchies. They are oppressed by other social customs and backed by government force. One of the most obvious places for this is in parts of the Islamic world. In many of these countries the voice of women may be heard, but not in public. In public they are speechless.
Just like Jasmine in the 2019 version of Aladdin.
In fact Jasmine’s story arc is the story arc for the whole movie. Her song that gets us through that timing is THE SONG from the movie worth remembering. Aladdin is wonderfully and positively political!
Yes, Will Smith did a great job paying homage to the songs from the animated version and the late Robin Williams, but it’s Jasmine’s song that occurs when the audience is emotionally invested and looking for hope that the heroes can overcome the villain.
This video shows Naomi Scott as a powerful singer and beautiful actress. In the movie it’s the climactic scene. I almost think this version takes a lot away from the meaning and power of this piece. If this movie fairs well in the Middle East it is likely to be the vehicle to do more than just entertain.
This One’s Different
Frozen gave voice to the power of sisters overcoming their challenges together and killed at the box office. Those challenges were more symbolic than realistic. How many of us have to fight a bad guy who thinks finishing someone else’s sandwiches is a good idea.
Aladdin and Speechless address real challenges in our day. When was the last time Disney green-lit a project to address anyone’s inequality? A Bug’s Life comes close, but that was more about retelling a mashup of The Ant and the Grasshopper combined with The Seven Samurai than about actually helping folks who were oppressed. This one’s different.
Songs about men oppressing women aren’t new in the Middle East. Hwages has over 26 million views, uses mostly a Saudi Arabian dialect to appeal to its target audience. Saudi Arabia only has about 33 million people. That’s the sign of a song with pretty good market penetration.
Hwages is a bit harsh. It’s very much against men including the lines “May all men go extinct. They caused us psychological illnesses.”
Speechless takes a different and more empowering perspective. It builds up the singer to face their internal and external fears yet calls for the end of the system of oppression. “Stay in your place, better seen and not heard. Now, that story is ending.” and my favorite: “I won’t go unspoken.”
Is It Ending?
The world has made wonderful progress against poverty and oppression. Is this the next step?
Now it’s time to watch and see if this has the impact it could have. We might not know for a decade or more.
I’m grateful my daughter insisted that we go and see this movie. Thank you, Eliza. I know you enjoyed the romance. I enjoyed feeling like I was watching something as significant as The Marriage of Figaro was to those who lived 250 years ago. I felt like I was watching history unfold.