Disney’s Live-Action Aladdin: If it wasn’t for the Genie…

Copyrights: Disney Studios.

With its agenda focused on the live-action reenactments of its all-time classic films, Disney’s Aladdin followed the recent Beauty and the Beast and Dumbo films to find its spot in the local theatres. Anyone who watched the animated Aladdin would agree that it is a risky choice for a live action adaptation. The 1992 Alaaddin was the greatest dance of colors a screen could ever house in itself. During the Disney renaissance, Aladdin was the film that made the second highest profits for Disney.

There are some things that need to stay in their initial artforms to meet up and play with our imaginations. 1992 Aladdin will always be one of those films for me. For this very reason, I had low expectations from this remake. I have more than a few comments to make. So, let’s start, shall we?

The Good
The scene in the cave that built up to Aladdin‘s iconic encounter with the Genie was spectacular. Yes, we have the green-screen technology here in 2019, but not one ever granted me a time travel with the green screen before. The particular scene was a favorite of mine. It also marked the point in which Will Smith (or “the genie”) took the reins of the film and started dominating the screen, leading us through the mystical possibilities with a sense of humor.

I have to admit, I never really liked Will Smith’s acting choices. The guy is talented, but his films never really spoke to me. Alaaddin, though, is the proof that you can put Will Smith, an animated monkey, and a carpet together, and keep a crowd entertained. He often outplayed the rest of the actors (not— Menna Massoud*) and erased them off of the screen for me. Production-wise, this is bad, but Smith surely deserves praise. It is not his fault that the casting didn’t work out the best, right?

*I have never watched Menna Massoud in any other productions. To me, he did not lead the film, but he seems to be a promising actor. While I could see many of the characters easily replaced by someone new, Massoud’s energy and visuals brought the animated Aladdin to life. If there is ever a sequel, Massoud’s portrayal holds a promise to be iconic.

The Bad
Both the accents and non-accents made me cringe. Why is it that the two lead characters have smooth accents? Why is it that the rest of the cast is speaking with unnoticeably noticeable accents that just hang in the air? I am confused. I am also not sure if this is a move by the production team to make the exotic film somewhat politically correct, or they were simply scared of criticism. What do I think? Time for a reality check. This is obviously an ethnic story re-made for profits. You can’t walk away from criticism and you obviously will offend people. So, make a choice and stand with it.

I adore the original Aladdin soundtrack. My long-time musical theatre experience often makes me give mediocre reviews for the on-screen musical adaptations. I can’t say I adore the re-make soundtrack, I can’t say I hate it. It is okay, which sounds like an insult to such great music. This is mainly because of Naomi Scott and the ensemble, that really failed to thrill me as I had hoped. Disney films, to me, are made complete by the ensemble in every way. Sadly, I did not see or hear it in Aladdin.

Let’s get to Jasmine’s solo. It finally revealed the complexity of Jasmine’s powerful character. The song was beautiful, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether Celine Dion was singing it. Seriously, close your eyes and tell me I am wrong. It did not nor will it ever fit into the classic soundtrack. It is a great attempt at girl empowerment but absolutely fails to represent the Middle Eastern roots of Aladdin.

The Ugly
There are different opinions about the origin of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’s story, but the common knowledge is that it is from the Arabian Nights. It was painful for me to see this identity crisis throughout the film. The ruler is the sultan, there are notions to the Arabic serai (or palace) regime, and it greatly reminds me of the prime time Middle Eastern tv shows about the Ottoman Empire. And on the other hand, I could swear the costumes and cinematic angle of the happy dancing is out of Bollywood. The intention seems to be directed towards inclusivity. Sadly, my eyes I couldn’t see that. I saw a mish-mash of different cultural figures put together, and it was chaotic.

Should you see Aladdin? Absolutely. Set your expectations low, but as Aladdin says, trust him—and the genie, of course.

A hero is born: Disappointments, hopes, and expectations after Turkey’s General Election

After his heartbreaking defeat by Erdogan, Ince gave this speech during a press conference that will echo in many people’s heads for a long time: “To Erdogan, please from now on stop acting like the general president of AKP. Become the president of 81 million people, put your arms around all people”. Ince continued, “I recommend you to use my slogan: The president of all. Become the president of all, from now on. End this tension that this nation is experiencing, put your arms around this nation, hug all of them.” He, then subtly mentioned his disappointment of what was to come for Turkey,  “If I were elected, that’s what I was going to do.” Ince continued, “I was ready to put my arms around the AKP supporters, as well as the nation as a whole. Now, that’s what I expect from Erdogan”.

Early Sunday morning, I got into my car, much like rest of the Turkish citizens, and drove off to my hometown to cast my vote, with a different kind of hope that I never had before. Muharrem Ince the presidential candidate that came out of the much passive Republican People’s Party (CHP), visited every inch of this beautiful yet hopeless country just under 51 days. Kids all around the nation sang his campaign song, his rallies pulled all time records for CHP, and I, for once, thought I could live here, in peace. The whole campaign was based on love, unlike Erdogan whose, words could only sound like hatred. Above all, Ince knew how to smile, and I saw, for once, that many people believed, like the New York Times article said, he was “the man who could topple Erdogan”.

1_5133_3

The story is simple: Muharrem Ince became the father that loved his two children so dearly and equally. The two children just couldn’t listen to each other over their differences, and he tried to teach them how to love. But, my guess is, it wasn’t quite the right time.

Ince spent the day in the YSK building, vowed to protect the votes of the nation from AKP’s illegal games that Turkey faced every single election since Turkey became a toy in Erdogan’s hands, in 2002 (Erdogan’s first win for his party AKP to have 365 MPs at the parliament). Once the clock hit about 9:30 pm, the media started airing the data from AA (Anadolu Agency), Ince warned the nation about the expected ballot manipulations. He was right, AKP started off strong with a high percentage, then landed on a 52.5% win, successfully playing with our feelings. İnce finished off with 30.68% breaking the record for a candidate of his party, CHP.

We were all aware of the extra ballots that have been given to people in exchange of a good amount of “pocket money”, the threats people received before entering the secured-voting area, and the home supplies they were provided to keep this economy that enables increasing poverty for another 5 years. An older lady I talked to right after elections said these words: “I prayed for a long time, I went to the ballots and I was praying on my way there. I was scared, I just hit Erdogan for the presidency”. This is just the pure feeling of oppression brought to many by something we cannot call democracy, anymore.

5b0fe6510490c821d070d9ea

The general elections contained the parliamentary elections, with AKP having the majority of seats with the help of its ally, MHP (AKP; 295 MPs, MHP, 49 MPs). Having over 300 MPs in the parliament, AKP secured the new constitution that was expected to run due to the referendum that was passed just over a year ago, in April 2017.

Erdogan now holds a dangerous amount of power, given to him by a scared, poor, and unaware nation. The president is able to directly appoint public officials, intervene in Turkey’s legal system at all costs, and declare a state of emergency whenever he finds suitable (Turkey is in a state of emergency since the coup of July 15, 2016). Moreover, the Turkish council is now unable to detect the MPs, unable to state verbal questions or receive information from the prime minister nor the MPS, and finally, the vote of confidence from the council is permanently taken out of the regimen.

Looking at this picture the Turkish nation voluntarily drew, I expected to be hopeless, scared and full of hatred to those who dragged our country under Erdogan’s presidency, once again.

The next day after I heard Muharrem Ince’s words at the press conference, I wasn’t any of that. He was the light that I could still trust within the familiar yet unbearable darkness. This time, it was bearable. Ince said, “We destroyed the dam of 30%, we can do the same for 50%. I am right here. If this nation tells me to walk in front of them, I am ready”. And millions whispered, “So, are we”.

1033968953.jpg

 

American CEOs, Politicians and “the impossible” Pluralism

The following content is confidential, and there are no titles or names given that would put anyone in danger. Although I do not identify as a Christian, this post explores the Christian worldview and its approach to vocation through guest speakers from Washington, DC.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
The American flag and the inaugration stairs, Capitol Hill Building.

All Abrahamic religions, in some way or another, are based on the same truth that once the ultimate mission of shaping the world is accomplished, they will bring peace and harmony on earth. However, the ways and methods they claim that will bring peace often involve changing the other, at times forcing the other, eliminating the other, or eliminating themselves from the other. We are all well aware that the easiest way to achieve conformity requires a little help from national politics. It sounds much like escapism, it is an escape from the beautiful pluralism we can strive to achieve, and it is, in essence, what we all are called for.

Inazu gracefully states in the very first chapter of his book that Americans fail to agree on “the purpose of [their] country, the nature of the common good and the meaning of human flourishing” (p. 15, Inazu). While we try to coexist, we fail to do so in peace. As Christians (and all other religions) would do, we find the solution in relying on the state. We delegate the holy power on a golden tray, trust with our eyes closed, and watch the state polarize us subtly.

So, what happens next? In a valuable conversation, the president of a DC-based Christian Forum said, “Our identities become political. Our religious identities become political. And, it becomes increasingly hard to find which is true and which is not”. As Christians, we face the risk of over-politicizing our faith and being present within our culture through partisan eyes only. Yes, politicizing faith creates political gain at all costs, but what happens next is disillusioning. She continued, “People start talking about elections in apocalyptic terms, our relationships start depending on the political views of the other, and in other words, this over-simplifies our faith”. She is right, we voluntarily over-simplify our faith, but is our faith really that shallow that it promotes burning the bridges between us?

The answer is no, but we still shatter things into pieces. According to Volf, “some of faith’s damaging effects can be attributed largely to differences of perspectives”, but not all. Most are simply ill-effects, or how Volf refers to them, malfunctions of religion. The Abrahamic (prophetic) religions, at their core, are based on ascend and return, and that is where we encounter the malfunctions.

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset
The artwork at the basement of the Washington National Cathedral.

Ascend is when the prophet rises to encounter with the divine, and receive the message which then changes him. To allow the message to change us, we need to have faith in the meaning of the language. When we politicize religion we hold a risk of hollowing out the language about God from within, due to losing faith in the encounter with God. We employ God and religious language to promote perspectives that are not related to the Divine. This is when we face functional reduction, as Volf says, “shaping people and their social realities, but in which God now lies dead, no longer a transformative reality, alive only as a topographic memory” (p. 11). Politics tirelessly use the language of God, over-simplifying faith, and losing its Divine meaning.

The return malfunctions arise at the time of delivering God’s message and correspond to two sins in Christian tradition: sins of omission, as we fail to deliver the language itself and pick parts of it, and sins of commission, when we impose it on the unwilling (Volf, p. 13). Max Weber’s argument on his classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, can be applied to what we face in politics today (p. 14). Politicians play the game by preset rules without applying the moral considerations because their end goal of winning is greater than all. Politics imposes its own rules to those who wish to participate in it, compelling them to conform. Volf adds, “In this new polytheism, we follow the voice of one god at work, another at home, and maybe yet another at church. Each sphere resists the claims of the one God to shape all of life” (p. 14).

There are many challenges that communicators and advocates face when developing strategic planning for organizations. The director of a global communications advising firm, talked about one of the hardest crisis management plan he had worked on for the BP, during the time when BP experienced an oil spill in one the Macondo Prospect. Upon analyzing such a tough situation, he gave the simple solution we all would not expect: Transparency. “The break down of trust requires new levels of transparency”, He said, “How did we take BP out of being a brand behind an industrial disaster? How is BP still in our lives?”, he continued. According to the Director, it was hard to convince BP to put a camera down to where the oil spill was, but they trusted the communications group, apologized, shared to the truth with their constituents, and asked engineers around the world for help. As Lederach would agree, truth brought freedom and reconciliation (p. 52).

The chief communications officer of a national multi-religious organization, deals with both internal and external communications, and he had insights to share on messaging. His golden advice when making decisions for the sake of the organization was to put away personal feelings and think about what benefits the organization the most which would hopefully eliminate any confusions on messaging as well. However, he added, “It is crucial to always be ready for the worst case scenario although the hope is that it never happens. When we anticipate the messages that can fall flat, an organization can work backward from the least bad scenario”.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
The famous Rotunda, Senate Building.

Moreover, communicators and advocates are well aware that politics provide a platform for faith to be hyperactive, imposing it on the unwilling. While speaking in a religious voice may not be oppressive, bringing religions solutions to solve public issues may very well can be. It should not be the duty of the state to object the church’s perspective, defend the church or define what is right and wrong under the light of religion. As DC-based Religious Forum Director put into words what we all forget at times, “The church does not need to define its place in society, the church is society”. And, Hunter would add, the basic intent and desire behind delegating the religious power to the state “is to dominate, control, or rule” (p. 106), in other words, simply doing what Christianity does not want you to do.

According to the Forum Director, “whatever power we give to the state, the state can never solve our problems for us”, and Volf and Hunter would argue, using the state as a referee to solve or settle problems would create a psychology of ressentiment. Ressentiment involves anger, envy, hate, rage and revenge as the motivation for political action, causing us to push one another away rather than striving to walk the fine line of coexistence. So, in spite of all these malfunctions we hold dearly, how do we coexist?

The culture of ressentiment focuses on “our needs only”, however, it is important we put the effort and “try to understand the concerns of each group has on their own terms” (Hunter, p. 110). Inazu offers a three-step solution to achieve pluralism as God intended it to be, through tolerance, humility, and patience. Tolerance allows us to accept one another’s differences and develop endurance while doing so. Humility helps us project our self-reflected values to those who have different views. And finally, patience eliminates coercion and violence, in the midst of the long road of establishing coexistence in harmony.

The leader of a global peacemaking organization, is someone who dedicated his life to find peace in the face of conflict. He says, “Conflict is a dynamic learning opportunity for genuine relationships” and he takes the posture of the learner during his travels, instead of imposing his own views on others. One of his life-changing experiences was in the Middle East when he met a man named Issam*, who was a server at the hotel the leader of this organization was staying with his family. Issam asked him why was it that Americans hated him, and he said: “You need to stop hearing about us, and start hearing from us”.

The Leader believes in these words religiously “My flourishing is connected to your flourishing”. And he claims to coexist with harmony, peacefully and beautifully, we must see humanity, dignity, and the image of God in everyone, just like Jesus did when he talked to the Samaritan woman (John 4). We must immerse in conflict, equipped with tools to heal rather than to win. We must be contend, and not try to find ways to get even but get creative in the way we show love. And finally, we must strive to restore, share our table with former enemies and celebrate the big and small ways God is restoring our world.

Similarly, an official from the Obama Administration, says the only utmost important Christian political duty is to “love thy neighbor”, and “seek the peace and prosperity of the [your] city” (Jer 29:7). We hear many say “Jesus could have been just as faithful working in politics”, but we can all agree that politics is not hospitable towards followers of Christ, and often results in disappointment or religious isolation. “But, how we fight with the tendency to escape when we face conflict is simple: Have the right size of expectations, pursue justice, and have humility”.

If we keep putting a greater identity to politics than it deserves, we are in danger. And taking the final advice of the Obama official: “It takes disinvesting ourselves in politics”. Then, Christians will be capable of creating good culture as they work modeling the image of God, and will finally find the beauty in coexisting, despite all of our deep and at times painful differences.