Despite initial controversy regarding the casting, we are slowly inching closer to the 2019 release of the live action Guy Ritchie Aladdin adaptation. Seeing as how the original is a, shall we say, charming mess when it comes to race and women, clearly Ritchie has his work cut out for him to update things. But the woman portraying Princess Jasmine insists the character has properly evolved and is multidimensional now.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Naomi Scott explained Jasmine’s reinvention in enthusiastic but vague terms:
“There are so many amazing new things about the character in this adaptation — I could literally go on for an hour!…Everyone involved in this project weren’t afraid to really just rip things down and start again, especially the Princess Jasmine character, because it’s so important to get that right.”
Hm, okay! Scott continues to explain that being a female character is “also about being a real person, and guess what? [She] can be strong and have fun, but also get it wrong and be emotional.” We allegedly see her go on a “roller-coaster” beyond romance.
It’s not a lot to go off of in terms of figuring out if Jasmine is actually an empowered character or if they’re giving her the Beauty and the Beast treatment, where her character is hailed as a feminist icon because she wears riding boots. It takes way more than rendering an inventor’s daughter into an inventor herself to truly give a Disney princess dimension. Besides, part of what makes Jasmine tricky is that, while she does have the agency to venture outside the castle walls and say things like, “I am not a prize to be won” in the animated version, a lot of her “pluckiness” comes in reaction to an extremely racist white perception of what gender roles in the Arab world look like.
Another allegedly empowering addition? Giving Jasmine an actual friend as opposed to a tiger:
“I never realized it, but in the animation, Jasmine is really the only female character — isn’t that crazy?” [Scott] explains. “The Dalia character is so important to this movie because she’s the only other female character. She may be the handmaiden but they’re best friends; they’re so close because they’ve grown up together. So we wanted people to watch the movie and see Jasmine’s relationship with another woman, and be like, ‘Ah, that’s what I’m like with my girlfriend,’ or ‘We would so do that if I was in that position.’ That’s something that’s missing from the animation.”
While adding another female role to the movie is a great employment opportunity for Nasim Pedrad (who I am legitimately excited about!), we still don’t really know if their relationship is actually empowering, or passes the Bechdel test. And going from just one female character to just two is hardly stunning progress.
At the very least, Scott hints at the possibility that Jasmine may have a bigger role in terms of ruling the kingdom.
“You really get in this adaptation of the movie that her heart is for her people, and her main objective is what’s best for her kingdom,” she says. “And you really get a sense that she has those leadership qualities within her.”
Again, “get a sense” is super vague, so I can only hope for the best here. But I’ll just make one final reminder that even though giving Princess Jasmine one more dimension technically makes her multi-dimensional, Disney is also very good at doing the bare minimum and calling it feminism!