Walt Disney Studios has rubbed up two alternative lines of lyrics for the opening number “Arabian Nights” in the animated smash “Aladdin,” following protests from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).
The reason for the change is a matter of intense dispute.
A Disney official said Sunday the decision was made internally, while an ADC official said the studio offered the organization a deal: It would change the lyrics if the ADC agreed not to take its objections to the press prior to the movie’s Oct. 1 release.
Here are the lyrics to “Arabian Nights,” as they were on the theatrical release:
Oh, I come from a land
From a faraway place
Where the caravan camels roam.
Where they cut off your ear
If they don’t like your face
It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.
The revised lines are: Where it’s flat and immense
And the heat is intense
It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.
Don Bustany, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the ADC, said the two-line rewrite is not enough to reverse racism that the org sees depicted in the movie.
The ADC official also leveled objections to the generic American elocution used by such favorable characters as Aladdin, Princess Jasmine and the benign Sultan.
Disney countered that the really bad guy in “Aladdin,” Jafar, speaks with an English accent, while his conniving parrot, Iago, has a Brooklyn accent.
“Every American child has a right to grow up feeling good about himself or herself,” said Bustany. “Can an Arab-American child feel good after seeing ‘Aladdin’? The answer is no.”
Not so, said Disney distribution prez Dick Cook. “The irony in all of this is that this is the first movie in years where both the hero and heroine are Arabic , and both are obviously terrific role models, not just for Arabs but for everybody.”
Bustany said, “Probably the most demeaning thing to Arabs is that all of the townspeople, the merchants and guards and soldiers are depicted as mean and cruel.”
Ironically, the majority of the townspeople in the movie are actually caricatures of Disney producers, directors and animators.
The new lyrics, also penned by the late Academy Award-winning lyricist Howard Ashman, will be placed on the homevideo version of the movie, to be released Oct. 1. Singer Brian Adler recorded both versions of the song, so Disney just dusted off some old master recordings to make the switch.
Bustany said the lyric changes are an olive branch offered by Disney after the ADC began to question “Aladdin’s” racial balance.
“There was no consideration given to how this would affect people of Arab origin,” Bustany said. In fact, Disney employed a number of Arab scholars and consultants.
At a May 26 meeting among distribution prexy Cook, VP publicity Terry Press, ADC national prez Albert Mokhiber, regional director Nazih Bayda, Southern Illinois U. communications professor Jack Shaheen and deejay Casey Kasem, the ADC asked for changes in the lyric and elimination of what they see as discriminatory accents, and that a scene of a merchant trying to lop off Princess Jasmine’s hand be cut out.
The changes would require expensive rewrites, remixing of sound and reanimation of the movie — an unrealistic business and artistic proposition for Disney.
At a second meeting, a week later, Bustany said Disney offered a deal: It would change the “Arabian Nights” lyric if the ADC would not take its objections to the press before the October homevid release.
In fact, ADC members had already been vocal critics of the pic.
Furthermore, Disney disputes Bustany’s version of the events of the meeting. Studio officials said the ADC was told during the meeting that Disney had weighed input from the ADC and other organizations and already decided to change the lyric in “Arabian Nights.”
“I hope this is the start of a process where filmmakers will consult with specific groups” in the development and production process, Bustany said. “At least, it would prevent filmmakers from hurting someone unintentionally.”