Earlier this year, I spent much of my Aladdin review raving about Mena Massoud, saying, “Let this be the takeaway of live-action Aladdin—the movie is completely mediocre, but Mena Massoud is A Star. If Aladdin gives us nothing else but Mena Massoud, then it has done its job,” and, “Mena Massoud should be our 2019 Internet Boyfriend or there is no justice in the world.” Well, Aladdin did not do its job and we failed, because Mena Massoud has had zero auditions since starring in a billion-dollar Disney blockbuster.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Massoud says, “I haven’t had a single audition since Aladdin came out. […] It’s like, I'm sitting here being like, OK, Aladdin just hit $1 billion. Can I at least get an audition? Like I’m not expecting you to be like, here’s Batman. But can I just get in the room? Like, can you just give me a chance? […] The big truth is I haven’t really seen a big anything from it.”
Making movies is like steering an aircraft carrier—it doesn’t change directions quickly. I’m not wholly surprised Massoud hasn’t booked his next major role yet, but I am a bit surprised he hasn’t had ANY auditions. I guess I shouldn’t be, looking back on the collective anxiety we had for Lupita Nyong’o after she won her Oscar in 2013. But then, this is the difference between the beginning of the decade and the end of the decade. At the beginning of the decade, it felt like a few of us openly discussed the different challenges facing non-white actors in Hollywood, that opportunities can be harder to come by, or never even materialize at all, and that even winning an Oscar doesn’t guarantee A-list superstardom. But here at the end of the decade, we’re having conversations about the imbalances in the industry and everyone seems generally more aware of blindspots and working to overcome them. So how then can a casting director see Mena Massoud, with all that charm, all that charisma—THAT SMILE—and not immediately call him in for every part under the sun? More fool me, I guess, for thinking we’ve come further than we really have.
But this is not to say Massoud is idle, post-Aladdin. He co-stars on Reprisal, a series debuting on Hulu at the end of the week, and he’s voicing the poet Rumi for an animated film. It’s just that nothing new is in the pipeline, after starring in one of the summer’s biggest movies. For comparison, Noah Centineo was the love interest in a Netflix rom-com and less than a year later, he was cast as He-Man. In fact, it was seven months after To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before that Centineo landed He-Man, and it’s now seven months since Aladdin came out. Should we expect an imminent casting announcement for Massoud? Apparently, we shouldn’t hold our breaths.
Also, I just want to point out this anecdote from Massoud’s profile:
“One of [Massoud’s] favorite stories to tell about shooting [Aladdin] is when he first met (Will) Smith during dance rehearsals. He wandered over during a break when Smith was talking with director Guy Ritchie, expecting Ritchie to introduce the two. When he never did, Massoud slunk away, with Smith assuming he was just a background dancer.”
Guy Ritchie, where are your manners? My great aunt Martila used to whack my shin with her cane if I forgot to introduce her to people—she made me practice! She would make me practice introducing people, because a good hostess always makes sure her guests are known to one another. You always know your guests’ names and at least one interesting fact about them so you can get people talking in social situations. Guy Ritchie failed to introduce the leads on his movie—Great Aunt Martila is rolling in her grave. They’re not just party guests, they’re co-workers! I realize a movie set is a workplace and not a social function, but how do you not introduce the two people who will be spending most of their time together? Rude.
Mena Massoud starred in one of the biggest movies of 2019, and he did not become the internet’s boyfriend, he has got zero new auditions, and Guy Ritchie made Will Smith think he was a backup dancer. We have failed Mena Massoud, Hollywood has failed Mena Massoud, and Guy Ritchie has failed Mena Massoud.