Last Thursday night at the Fox Theatre while waiting for the doors of “Aladdin” to open on the musical’s press night performance, little girls threw their freshly bought Jasmine dolls into the air while others hugged them close as they followed their parents around the theater. Once the curtains rose, and Jasmine slipped onto stage, the girls were entranced. Entering the theater, none were aware of the lessons Jasmine would send home with them that night, but upon exiting, they were sure to not forget them.
The story of “Aladdin” is very well known as a poor boy becoming rich through the help of a princess and a genie. Yet, Aladdin’s rise to nobility and Jasmine’s position are more connected than what was immediately visible.
Beyond the blatantly false idea that Jasmine marries Aladdin because he is a prince, what is more important is what Jasmine has to gain from Aladdin’s wished-up, aristocratic persona, “Prince Ali.”
See, Jasmine already likes Aladdin before he wishes to be a prince. Yet, Jasmine is much more open to him once she believes he is one. The biggest reason is that then he qualifies to marry her.
It may seem that these are skewed priorities. However, for this reason, she works for herself.
As it stands, Jasmine resents the logical fallacy she lives in. In the number “These Palace Walls,” she says “suitors talk of love but it’s an act, merely meant to throw me. How can someone love me when in fact, they don’t know me. They want my royal treasure, when all is said and done.”
As a woman in a constricting traditional society, she exerts her influence in this one area, marriage, as much as she can to ensure her future freedoms. In Agrabah, love means love but it also means a decision Jasmine could make herself without having to explain to a society of men, the deciding factor being her disdain for misogyny.
What she is not looking for is Aladdin’s certified financial stability. In fact, Jasmine demonstrates no interest in the financial assets a man provides. She holds a track record of rejecting every prince that has approached her. The reason being simply that she doesn’t need their financial security. She is the princess of an already successful country and she has what she wants in terms of money.
What she finds within Aladdin, and what was lacking in all the other princes, is a sense of equality and a representation of freedom. Where the other princes considered her as nothing more than a baby-maker, Aladdin listens to her opinions and adds to them. With this, she sees the promise of future opportunities to make decisions and explore.
In order to secure that freedom, Jasmine inadvertently puts pressure on Aladdin to meet the qualification of nobility. Aladdin takes notice and shows up as “Prince Ali,” meeting both personal and legal qualifications and guaranteeing their happy ending.
In comparison to the 1992 Disney animated film, the new Disney Broadway musical based on the movie is much more conspicuous on the front of gender equality.
Each time the story is retold for a new audience, the script is altered to suit the political climate of that generation. Having been introduced to “Aladdin” in the early 2000s, I remember, in the movie, that the implications of equal division of labor are muted, hardly even mentioned besides off-hand, indirect comments. Yet, with the rise of female empowerment and the support of it from celebrities, the more modern musical goes further with all of Jasmine’s actions, including her outright stating upon her first appearance in Act One that she’d like “a suitor who’d be willing to change a few royal diapers once in a while.”
Disney’s messages have changed as the years have gone by and with their wide reach, they can change the view of the public as well. Up-and-coming young women can take satisfaction in heroines that reflect them, and those less confident in themselves can take these strong female leads as role models.
The message shared in Aladdin is best described in clarification: it is not BECAUSE Aladdin is a prince that Jasmine wants to marry him. It is BECAUSE she wants to marry him that Aladdin is a prince. While “Aladdin” is about Aladdin rising to greatness, Jasmine is the one who molds that greatness. To contextualize for the modern day, as the world grows brighter, women will be the ones to shape it.
Three VOX ATL journalists got to see “Aladdin” on press night thanks to our partnership with Broadway in Atlanta and Most Valuable Kids-Atlanta, through the “More Than a Ticket” program providing opportunities for local youth to experience arts and culture.
The national touring company of “Aladdin: The Musical” is at the Fox Theatre in Midtown Atlanta through Sunday. For tickets and more info, go to foxtheatre.org.
Christina Wang, 16, junior at Milton High School, speaks four languages but finds that her favorite is English.