Overall, this film mostly adheres to traditional gender roles and reinforces stereotypes regarding race. While it is noteworthy that Disney attempts to portray a non-white non-western culture, the construction of the people of Agrabah as a generic Middle Eastern “Other” culture is problematic as elements of numerous Middle Eastern cultures across time and space are reduced to a singular stereotype.
In this Disney classic, the penniless Aladdin of Agrabah (a fictional depiction of a Middle-Eastern empire) attempts to impress the beautiful Princess Jasmine with the help of a genie.
- Threatening and demeaning language
- “Moron,” “infidel,” “street rat,” “slit a few throats,” “beheading”
- No gore
- Fighting-hitting, shoving
- Threatening language
- Moderate sexual content
- Many of the women in the film are sexualized in their appearance and manners
- Genie briefly smokes a cigarette
- Jasmine, at times, challenges traditional gender roles regarding femininity. For example, Jasmine challenges male authority by refusing potential suitors chosen by her father (thereby refusing to give up her agency).
- Often times in films the male hero is both attractive and wealthy as this is a perquisite for traditional masculinity. However, Aladdin challenges traditional gender roles regarding masculinity as he is depicted as poor.
- Genie does not strictly adhere to traditional gender roles. Although Genie is coded as masculine, given his facial hair and his voice (Robin Williams), he performs masculinity and femininity throughout the film. For example, in one scene Genie pretends to be a flight attendant by doing drag and performing femininity.
- The film depicts a non-white non-western culture, and within that culture there are both good and bad people. For example, Aladdin, who is within the culture, is coded as “good” while Jafar, who is within the culture, is coded as “bad.”
Sexual Orientation– N/A
- Overall, the women of Agrabah adhere to traditional gender roles regarding femininity as they are depicted as passive, sexualized individuals who lack character depth. Thus, as a result of this sexualization, the male gaze is present throughout the entirety of the film.
- Jasmine uses her body and beauty, instead of her intelligence, to manipulate a powerful male character.
- Jasmine adheres to the damsel in distress trope as she is regularly saved by male characters.
- Orientalism is present throughout the entire film as characteristics regarding “Other” cultures, especially Middle Eastern cultures, are stereotyped as dangerous, mysterious, exotic, and hot (both in temperature of the land and temperament of the people in the culture). The film’s opening number entitled “Arabian Nights” illustrates these stereotypes. Further, Middle Eastern men are depicted as barbaric, dark, mysterious, immoral, smelly, and evil while Middle Eastern women are depicted as sexually mysterious and wanting.
- In films, a character’s physical appearance is often an indicator of moral character. The villain, Jafar, has one of the darker complexions of all the characters in the film. He is also the only character with an accent.
- Genie briefly characterizes Mexican culture by wearing a sombrero and speaking Spanish.
- There are no variations of sexual orientation.
- Genie makes a stereotypical comment about gay relationships in which he says to Aladdin “I’m getting fond of you. Not that I want to pick out curtains or anything.”
- In order to escape a complicated situation, Jasmine pretends to be mentally unstable. In the film, mental instability is depicted as something society does not want to engage with.
- Oftentimes in media disability is used as a signifier of immoral character. Jafar disguises himself as an old, disabled man who is characterized as greedy, evil, and violent.
- In the media, the fat body is often depicted as an indicator of immoral character. For example, the Sultan, who has a fat body, is depicted as weak, easily manipulated, and fearful.
- In the media, the grotesque body is often depicted as an indicator of immoral character. For example, Jafar’s disguise, an old body with a disability, is depicted as grotesque as he is dirty, drooling, has bad teeth and is immoral (greedy).
Suggested talking points
- Discuss how the opening song, “Arabian Nights,” can contribute to stereotypes of Middle Eastern cultures. This would be a good point to discuss modern depictions of Middle Eastern people as evil. Although Aladdin is rife with stereotypes, the film can act as a starting point for productive discussions involving race and non-Western cultures.
- A common theme in Disney films is romantic love between a man and a woman. This can be problematic on two levels, as romantic love is depicted as necessary for happiness and, also as heterosexuality is a prerequisite for romantic love.
- Disney films tend to perpetuate princess culture. Most of the women in these films maintain no real life occupation and are only complete when they fall in love. For example, Jasmine is considered a “Disney princess” and has no apparent occupation or hobbies. Further, Jasmine finds true fulfillment and happiness through her romantic relationship with Aladdin.
Keywords: movie, disney, aladdin, animation, family, race, ethnicity, music,