In the latest live-action retelling of Disney’s hit cartoon Aladdin which released last week, we find that many things are the same (major nostalgic feels), while others have been given a 2019 makeover in all the right ways. Take the main female lead, Jasmine, who has always been one of the more fierce Disney princesses, fighting for what’s right and displaying strength against any obstacle. In this version, the Princess of Agrabah not only gets to make her own choices about her life (picking her own husband, for one), she also tries to make an impact in her country. Actor Naomi Scott, who plays Jasmine in this 2019 version of the film, sees the character’s evolution as a natural progression.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re shoehorning something in,” says Scott in an interview to Los Angles Times. “In the original movie, as great as it is that she’s fighting for the choice of who she wants to marry, that’s where her ambition kind of stops. In this movie, she’s more ambitious and she looks outside herself. She’s trying to protect her kingdom against this evil dictator [Jafar]. It’s showcasing that you can lead and you can have love. You can have both, girls, and the two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Whereas the original film’s Jasmine was mainly concerned with choosing a spouse, Scott’s version dreams of breaking with archaic patriarchal traditions and ruling her kingdom. This is a Jasmine for the era of female presidential candidates and the #MeToo movement, reflecting broader societal shifts in gender norms and expectations over the past 27 years. Another breakaway from the original film is the part where Jafar tells Jasmine that women should be "seen and not heard". One can sense the frustration and the struggle the character goes through before she breaks into a song, Speechless, to express exactly how she feels.
The song is a new addition to the film, and Naomi explains the meaning behind its powerful feminist lyrics. “She says ‘enough is enough, I’m going to make a choice and stand up for what I believe in', it’s such a strong song", says Scott. “I think the message is so powerful, the idea that she is not going to go speechless and you do have a voice and you should speak up against injustice.”
According to the tweet shared below, the exclusive music producer for the film, Mike Sullivan said that Naomi Scott sang Speechless live on set two years ago during the birth of the #MeToo movement. Now that puts the song in a whole new perspective, doesn’t it?
There’s a powerful new song in #Aladdin called “Speechless,” where Jasmine finds her voice. Executive music producer Mike Sullivan said actress @NaomiScott sang it on set live two years ago during “the birth of the #MeToo movement. It was incredible.” pic.twitter.com/rN6QcHo9pU— Carly Mallenbaum (@ThatGirlCarly) May 22, 2019
In recent years, as Disney has been updating its hit animated movies, the studio has found that depictions of gender roles that were accepted in decades past may now be cringe-worthily outdated. They seem to be figuring out how to strike the right balance, delivering audiences a fix of nostalgia while also reflecting the heightened awareness around issues of identity and power that exist today. And while there are those who disagree with some of the changes Disney makes (the new Belle from Beauty and the Beast was not universally loved), this 2019 version of Jasmine does seem to be a firm step in the right direction, don’t you think?