‘Aladdin’ Star Mena Massoud Talks Closing Hollywood Diversity Gap With Casting Foundation

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The Egyptian-Canadian star launched his Ethnically Diverse Artists Foundation to get emerging talent from underrepresented groups on the industry’s radar.

Canadian Aladdin star Mena Massoud has launched his own charitable foundation to give the industry’s diverse talent pool essential tools to jumpstart Hollywood careers.

“There’s a glass ceiling in Canada,” Massoud told The Hollywood Reporter. His upstart Ethnically Diverse Artists Foundation aims to support talented artists from underrepresented groups, starting in his native Canada before eventually setting up in Los Angeles.

“Even though Suicide Squad comes to shoot in Toronto and is a great boon for our industry, for [local artists] it’s not really a great boon because casting for lead roles is done out of Los Angeles,” he added. Massoud recounted struggling for years as an upstart actor in Toronto before landing the titular role in Disney’s live action Aladdin remake.

“Even though I’m very fortunate and grateful to have played Aladdin, there were still four, five casting directors who never gave me a shot in Toronto. They didn’t give me the time of day. I never got to audition for them,” he explained.

The Guy Ritchie-directed Aladdin starred Will Smith as the Genie and Massoud as the titular hero, a charming street rat who masquerades as a prince to win the affections of Princess Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott.

To help underrepresented artists also achieve Massoud’s blockbuster status, the EDA Foundation will help them secure mentors, aid for training and even pay for headshots to get them in front of casting directors. Massoud also wants film and TV producers to cast authentically and fairly so artists from underrepresented backgrounds — whether based on gender, race, ethnicity or being members of the LGBTQ community — can accelerate their careers.

“With Aladdin, had Disney not wanted to cast authentically, I probably would not be in the position I’m in and gone on to do this incredible film,” Massoud, who also appeared in Amazon’s Jack Ryan, argued. For progress to be made, young, diverse talent must get access to basic necessities the Aladdin star struggled to secure when he was coming up.

“I went to theater school in Toronto for four years and grew up around actors, and things like headshots could cost you from $500 to $1,000. That can be a big deal for a struggling artist,” Massoud insisted. And the biggest uphill climb, he added, is for artists from ethnically diverse backgrounds, whether they are from South or East Asia, Latin America or the Middle East.

“In the industry, artists of of color struggle the most. Caucasian artists have really solidified themselves in the industry, and with African Americans now we see directors and producers who vow to only produce work that shines a light on African American artists. But everybody in the middle gets lost,” Massoud explained. (read more)

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