Disney’s Upcoming Snow White Film Spurs Fan Outrage Amid Reports It May Not Feature Dwarves ‘To Avoid Reinforcing Stereotypes’ 

Disney says it is taking ‘a different approach’ and ‘consulting with members of the dwarfism community’ after ‘Game of Thrones’ star Peter Dinklage complained.

Via Wikimedia Commons
A scene from the 1937 trailer for Disney's animated film 'Snow White.' Via Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a time in a Hollywood far, far away, actors were chosen for their talent and physical resemblance to the characters they were cast to play. It was a shamefully regressive time, of course, but the women often were saved by kisses from princes and everyone lived happily ever after.

Those story lines don’t fly anymore, alas. By today’s mores, a princess needs to consent to a kiss, and if she can’t because she’s resting in an eternal slumber, then there she will stay.

The typecast standards, though, still do exist and are enforced — but only when it comes to roles for “marginalized” groups: A cisgender actor increasingly can’t play a transgender role, a white person can’t play a Black character, and some in Hollywood are even pushing to restrict the playing of gay characters to gay actors.

When it comes to dwarfs, though, Hollywood didn’t get the memo.

Disney’s remake of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is set to be released in March, but the film is already getting backlash from the right over its feminist reimagining of the classic fairytale and its casting of a Hispanic actress in the role of the “fairest of them all.” It is also facing criticism for casting “politically correct” regular-sized people as all but one of the dwarves.

Photos purporting to be from the set of “Snow White” started circulating on social media this month showing stand-in actors in costume, with six of the seven dwarfs played by average-sized adults — one a woman and three members of racial minorities. Unsurprising perhaps, there was no Asian dwarf. They don’t tick the right boxes anymore.

Several large Twitter accounts called out the movie with hashtags like #GoWokeGoBroke, and Megyn Kelly criticized the film on her YouTube channel as “racialized to check every box they can, except for all the dwarf boxes because they’re offensive — I guess you can only have the one dwarf, that’s not offensive.”

Some dwarfs, too, are calling out Disney for casting average-sized people and taking away roles that otherwise would have gone to dwarf actors.

“Roles in Hollywood are very hard for people in my community to get, besides the elf and the leprechaun,” a dwarf actor and professional wrestler, Dylan Postl, tells Piers Morgan. “I can’t go out for the Harrison Ford or George Clooney roles. … These dwarf roles are for people of my stature, and now that’s being taken away. I don’t feel that’s right.”

The controversy over how to cast the dwarfs in a live-action reboot of the 1937 animated film started last year when arguably the most famous dwarf actor, Peter Dinklage, called out Disney on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast.

Walt Disney in 1937, in the trailer for ‘Snow White.’ Via Wikimedia Commons

“I was a little taken aback when they were very proud to cast a Latina actress as Snow White — but you’re still telling the story of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’” Mr. Dinklage said. “You’re progressive in one way,” he adds, but says that one is still making a “backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together?”

Disney responded immediately. “To avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film, we are taking a different approach with these seven characters and have been consulting with members of the dwarfism community,” the company said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter.

Now Disney is being attacked for going “woke” with the project. This follows the release earlier this year of the live-action “Little Mermaid” starring a Black actress in the role of Ariel. The film proved popular enough among American audiences — not a hit, but it earned back its money. Overseas, though, “The Little Mermaid” flopped, particularly in the second-largest movie market, China.

Criticisms of Hollywood — and Disney in particular — for going “woke” are nothing new. What is new is the right’s commitment to following through with boycotts of products and entertainment it doesn’t like. Bud Light is a prime example.

“Snow White” is also being criticized for its feminist reimagining of the plot. The film has yet to be released, so all of this is speculation based on interview clips with its two female stars, Rachel Zegler, who plays Snow White, and Gal Gadot, who plays the evil queen. The original movie’s overarching message is about the destructiveness of envy and vanity and the triumph of love over hate. Ms. Zegler suggests this is not the message of the reboot.

“It’s no longer 1937,” Ms. Zegler says in one of the clips being circulated online. Snow White is “not going to be saved by the prince and she’s not going to be dreaming about true love. She’s dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be.”

In another clip, Ms. Zegler addresses the fairytale’s iconic line, “Who is the fairest of them all?” In the original story, Snow White is aptly named for her snow-white skin. Ms. Zegler has a tan complexion.

“When we came to actually reimagining the role of Snow White, it became about ‘the fairest of them all,’ meaning who is the most just and who can become a fantastic leader,” Ms. Zegler says.

There is nothing inherently wrong with remaking a movie with a different message, look, and feel. An actor should be able to be cast in any role if she can inhabit the character and entertain audiences. Some of the best performances of all time were made by actors who had nothing in common with characters they played. Great art is made from the freedom to experiment. 

Yet Hollywood wouldn’t dare cast a white actor to play the Black Panther. Lawrence Olivier’s blackface performance of Othello, once considered a masterpiece, is now derided as racist and harmful. Scarlet Johansson dropped out of a role playing a transgender character after facing backlash from transgender actors and rights groups.

When a character is specifically written to have snow-white skin — her defining feature — the message from Hollywood is, who cares? Dwarfs are apparently getting left out of this special privilege status, too.

It’s the hypocrisy and the box-ticking that’s likely fueling much of the anger. Americans, in turn, can either support a production or not. Profits speak louder than words, and Hollywood wants to live happily ever after. 

The New York Sun

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