There was a young and courageous hero who lived in the city of Agrabah. While not one to cower to expectations, the hero was a victim of circumstance and a system destined to fail them, trapped by a power far beyond their own. For the hero, however, a great destiny awaited. This story is not the tale of a particular handsome and lovable street urchin. Rather, it is the journey of a woman of color, Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who is adamant about being heard and being the voice of her people.
The original “Aladdin” is an animated film about a young man fighting the odds, finding love and exploring the magical possibilities of a genie’s lamp. Released in 1992, the film featured famous stars such as Robin Williams and Scott Weinger.
Walt Disney released the live-action remake of “Aladdin” on May 22 in the United Kingdom, and it premiered two days later in other countries. According to box office sales, the movie grossed over $90 million within the first week of its release.
Guy Ritchie, the director and screenwriter, was responsible for the casting of the remake, which served as a catalyst for a lot of the buzz, as well as controversy, surrounding the film. Mena Massoud, as Aladdin, costars with Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine and Will Smith as Genie.
But the star who stole the show was Scott.
Scott is a British-Indian actress and singer. The 26-year-old has acted in movies such as “Lemonade Mouth” and “Power Rangers,” but no single role prior to “Aladdin” compares to Scott’s rendition of Princess Jasmine.
The original film made clear that Princess Jasmine is not to be taken lightly between her sassy demeanor and dismissal of several suitors. However, the new 2019 version reveals a side of Princess Jasmine that Disney lovers have never seen before.
At a recent press conference in London, Scott mentioned watching the animated movie as a child and taking inspiration from the film in order to internalize what Princess Jasmine meant to her. “I had a very strong idea about what I wanted to do with this character,” Scott said, “which I think gave me peace because I was like, ‘I am going to put out what I believe it should be or could be.’”
Not only does the live-action remake of “Aladdin” take on a whole new world, but the movie also gives the characters a whole new dynamic. Although the plot is centered around Aladdin, Princess Jasmine is also a prominent character, facing her demons and conquering them on her own.
A recurring conflict in the original film is Princess Jasmine’s status and how she is unable to be her father’s successor and rule Agrabah. Instead, her father must marry her off to a suitor worthy of becoming the Sultan. In the new version of “Aladdin,” Scott does not just play the role of a love interest. She becomes the new sultan of Agrabah, despite the laws and authorities governing against her.
In a press conference, Smith praised the move to fashion a more empowered Jasmine. “That idea that she [Princess Jasmine] wanted to rule” Smith said, “was such a delicate and fantastic way to be able to create the modern element of this character. She was in a world where that’s ridiculous. A woman can’t be sultan. A woman isn’t allowed to rule, but she was fighting for that position.”
Throughout the film, Scott embodies the unbreakable strength of Princess Jasmine, as she is told time after time that she needs to remain in her place and be silent. The tensions, mainly between Princess Jasmine and Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), lead up to a pivotal moment in the film.
Scott sang her heart out in a new song composed for the movie, titled “Speechless.” The song takes place during the scene where Jafar wishes to be sultan and orders Princess Jasmine to be taken away. Against all odds, she refuses to give up her kingdom and allow Jafar to start a war.
Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are the composers of “Speechless.” The two are famous for their works in “La La Land” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” They worked alongside the original composer for “Aladdin,” Alan Menken, to create the powerful anthem.
Pasek and Paul said they found the blueprint for the song within the original animated film. “Speechless” was derived from the third act where Jafar spoke down to Jasmine and told her speechlessness was a fine quality in a wife. Menken said, “If we’re gonna earn this song, we’re gonna really have to play into this journey of Jasmine and how she’s been kept silent and how she must find her voice.”
The song, “Speechless,” altered Princess Jasmine’s narrative and proved she was capable of ruling Agrabah, not only to everyone else but also to herself. It was Scott’s fighting moment both on screen and off. “There was a lot going on in the world that related to that moment,” Scott said. “I wanted it to be raw and angry.”
Massoud and Smith spoke on Scott’s performance of “Speechless” and the importance of being heard in a world that wishes women were mute eye candy, especially appropriate for a story set in a culture that, historically, severely restricted women’s rights. Massoud said, “’Speechless’ is not only the signature of the film but of the generation.”
The cast and crew committed to the creative responsibility of bringing the tale of “Aladdin” to life and the task of encouraging diversity and cultural authenticity on screen. The live “Aladdin” remake has provided an array of representation for people of color, and, additionally, it continues the work of galvanizing women who aspire to be leaders, even in the dimmest of circumstances.
Scott’s performance as Princess Jasmine was a mere fraction of the production, but her character arc inspires young girls and women watching so that they too can follow their dreams.
In a recent interview, Scott said, “Of course I’m incredibly connected to it [Aladdin], but I really do feel like it’s going to touch upon some things and hopefully speak to young girls out there. That’s my aim, always.”