Earlier this year, Disney faced a backlash, boycotts and controversy over The Little Mermaid. Now, just three months on, the House of Mouse is once more under fire from fans and right-wing pundits for its adaptation of Snow White.
The upcoming live-action remake of the 1937 animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was based on the 19th-century fairytale by the Brothers, has only just wrapped filming but is already at the centre of a war of words.
Both Disney fans and right-wing commentators have expressed disapproval of star Rachel Zegler’s comments about the original material, while others have shared their concern over plot alterations and the “backwards” notion of making a film that promotes stereotypes about people with dwarfism.
Why is Snow White facing criticism?
The casting of Rachel Zegler as Snow White
Zegler was cast as Disney’s original princess in June 2021, four months before Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story catapulted her to stardom and earned her a best actress gong at the Golden Globe Awards.
Zegler’s casting was initially criticised by some who questioned why she, a Latina actress of Colombian descent, would be playing a character who is well-known for having “skin as white as snow”.
In response, Zegler told Spider-man star Andrew Garfield during Variety’s Actors on Actors series that her detractors need to be loved “in the right direction” and, regardless of the controversy, she is excited to be a Latina princess.
“Never in a million years did I imagine that this would be a possibility for me,” she told him. “You don’t normally see Snow Whites of Latin descent, even though Snow White is a big deal in Spanish-speaking countries.
“Blanca Nieves is a huge icon whether you’re talking about the Disney cartoon or just different iterations and the fairytale and all the stories that come with it. But you don’t particularly see people who look like me, or are me, playing roles like that.
“When it was announced, it was a huge thing that was trending on Twitter for days… all the people were angry.”
Earlier this year, the star was forced to address criticism towards her casting once again.
Sharing pictures of her younger self dressed as a princess in a post on X, formerly Twitter, Zegler wrote: “Extremely appreciative of the love I feel from those defending me online, but please don’t tag me in the non-sensical discourse about my casting. I really, truly do not want to see it.
“So, I leave you [with] these photos. I hope every child knows they can be a princess, no matter what.”
Comments made by Rachel Zegler about feminist aspects of the film
Zegler has also faced problems following interviews during which she branded the original Snow White anti-feminist, and promised audiences the reboot would showcase the princess as a leader.
The clips resurfaced on social media and quickly went viral, with some TikTokers tightly editing the content to cut out part of what Zegler said and not giving the full picture of her views on the film.
“I just mean that it’s no longer 1937,” Zegler said at the Disney D23 Expo in September. “We absolutely wrote a Snow White [who is] not going to be saved by the prince.
“She’s not going to be dreaming about true love. She’s going to be dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be, and that her late father told her that she could be if she was fearless, fair, brave and true.”
The original cartoon, which was Disney’s first feature-length film, is “extremely dated when it comes to the ideas of women being in roles of power and what a woman is fit for in the world”, she told EW.
And in an interview with Extra TV, she said: “The original came out in 1937, and very evidently so. There’s a big focus on her love story with a guy who literally stalks her. Weird. So, we didn’t do that this time.”
The apparent change in direction for the film was met with anger from fans, traditionalist right-wingers and even the son of David Hand, one of the directors of the original animation.
“It’s a whole different concept and I totally disagree with it, and I know my dad and Walt would also very much disagree with it,” Hand’s son, who is also called David, told The Telegraph.
“They change the stories, they change the thought process of the characters… they’re making up new woke things and I’m just not into any of that,” Hand said, describing the remake as a disgrace and branding Disney as “so radical”.
He added: “There’s no respect for what Disney did and what my dad did… I think Walt and he would be turning in their graves.”
Concerns over representations of the seven dwarfs
Another area of controversy has been how Disney planned to approach the dwarf characters in the film.
Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage, who has a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia, described the story as “backwards” during an appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. “No offence to anyone, but I was a little taken aback when they were very proud to cast a Latina actress as Snow White, but you are still telling the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
“Take a step back and look at what you are doing there. It makes no sense to me… You are progressive in one way, but then you are still making that f**king backwards story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together, what the f**k are you doing? Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soapbox? I guess I am not loud enough.”
In response, Disney said it had been consulting with members of the dwarfism community to “avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film”.
Later, images came to light which appeared to show the film’s production with the dwarfs appearing to be made up of six men and one woman, of various races – six of whom do not have dwarfism.
The decision to reimagine the characters as a more diverse group was quickly branded as “woke” and “politically correct” by social media users and right-wing publications, who proceeded to ridicule the production.
And the controversy snowballed when other actors with dwarfism spoke out against Dinklage’s viewpoint, claiming his words had resulted in seven roles being taken away from actors in the community.
WWE wrestler and actor Dylan Postl told the Daily Mail: “It makes me so sick to my stomach to think that there are seven roles for dwarfs who can’t get normal acting roles, or very few and far between, and now they are gone because of this guy.
“Peter Dinklage is the biggest dwarf actor probably of all time but it doesn’t make him king dwarf.”
Have other Disney remakes faced a backlash?
Disney’s live-action remakes have been no stranger to negative comments from the public, particularly casting and creative choices which differ from the original animations.
The Little Mermaid unleashed a firestorm of racist criticism for the fact Halle Bailey, a Black woman, was cast as Ariel. Many people claimed mermaids could not be Black, seemingly forgetting that the mythical creatures are not real.
When Beauty and the Beast was remade, there was a homophobic backlash for the inclusion of a gay character: Gaston’s sidekick LeFou.
The inclusion of a gay character resulted in the film not being released, or restricted, in a number of countries, while a cinema in Alabama refused to screen it.
At the time of its release in 2017, director Bill Condon described the film’s “gay moment” as a “tiny thing, and it’s been overblown”.