The Many Controversies Of Disney’s ‘Snow White’ Remake, Explained (2023)

Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Snow White, starring Rachel Zegler, has been enduring a long, melodramatic backlash that refuses to die.

Fans and critics often dismiss Disney’s live-action remakes as cash-grabs, millennial nostalgia-bait that rarely hold up to the craftsmanship of the original animated films.

As Disney continues to churn out remakes, the critical discourse has been infected by reactionary content creators who blend anti-woke talking points with fan grievances, and Snow White has proved no exception.

While 90’s classics such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin proved simple enough to adapt to live-action, Disney has struggled with old masterpieces like Dumbo, Pinocchio and seemingly, Snow White; after all, these films were made more than eighty years ago, and cultural expectations have shifted.

Snow White is due to be released in March 2024; it remains to be seen if the backlash will continue, or if Disney fans will finally calm down. Here are the many controversies of Snow White, explained:

Casting Of Snow White

When first announced, the casting of West Side Story star Rachel Zegler as the titular Snow White sparked racist backlash from commentators who believed that Zegler (who is of Colombian and Polish descent) wasn’t pale enough for the part, as the princess is described as having skin “as white as snow.”

Zegler acknowledged the backlash in an interview with Variety, stating that she was “trending on Twitter for days, because all of the people were angry.” Zegler went on to emphasize that “Snow White is really a big deal in Spanish-speaking countries” and expressed pride at playing “a Latina princess.”

On “X,” the site formerly known as Twitter, Zegler posted pictures of herself dressed as various Disney princesses as a child, writing: “Extremely appreciative of the love I feel from those defending me online, but please don’t tag me in the nonsensical discourse about my casting. I really, truly do not want to see it. So I leave you these photos! I hope every child knows they can be a princess no matter what.”

Snow White And The Seven Companions

Note that the upcoming remake is titled Snow White, not Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The upcoming remake features only one actor with dwarfism, with their six companions played by non-dwarf actors.

The absence of dwarfs has sparked backlash online, but the idea of seven dwarfs appearing in the remake also proved controversial.

Appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage dismissed Disney’s remake as a “backwards story,” stating that he “was a little taken aback when [Disney] 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.”

In response to Dinklage's comments, Disney stated that "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."

Dinklage's interview prompted other actors with dwarfism to object to his comments, with some expressing concern that future acting roles could be lost.

Actress Katrina Kemp described the casting as “a missed opportunity to make a movie with seven little people where they actually have intended characters. There will have been people who gladly would have taken those roles.”

Rachel Zegler’s Controversial Comments

Zegler is known to talk off the cuff when promoting her films, speaking with blunt humor instead of bland PR speak, having joked that she took a role in Shazam 2 because she “needed a job.”

While promoting Snow White last year, Zegler made a series of offhand comments in which she playfully mocks the original animation.

Zegler’s comments were recently unearthed by TikTok, sparking a wave of surprisingly fierce criticism from creators who accused Zegler of “hating” Snow White and having a “pseudo-feminist” take on the original animation.

What did Rachel Zegler say?

While speaking to Entertainment Weekly back in December, the West Side Story star said she was “scared of the original version,” having “watched it once and never picked it up again.”

In a Variety interview from September, Zegler talked about the changes made to the original, emphasizing that “it’s no longer 1937” and that Snow White was “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.”

Another interview at the D23 Expo saw Zegler describe Prince Charming, who awakens sleeping Snow White with a kiss, as “a guy who literally stalks her.” She called that part of the story “weird” and said they “didn’t do that this time.”

Zegler also joked that the scenes featuring Prince Charming “could get cut,” adding: “Who knows? It’s Hollywood, baby.”

What was the response?

An unholy trinity of Disney adults, anti-woke content creators and popular FilmTok critics took issue with Zegler’s tone, describing her as a “walking PR disaster for Disney,” and even accused Zegler of “shaming anyone who liked” the animated original.

One TikTok video from creator @CosyWithAngie that has been liked more than 1.7 million times expressed exhaustion with Disney’s shallow brand of “girlboss” feminism, stating:

“Criticizing Disney princesses is not feminist. Not every woman is a leader. Not every woman wants to be a leader. Not every woman wants or craves power. And that’s OK.”

A TikTok video by @ShikaLord argued that Disney princesses don’t have to be turned into "girl bosses" and that depicting every princess as an action hero is “boring.”

Other criticisms got nastier, and more personal. One TikTok video that has been viewed over a million times claimed: “Disney found a way to cast somebody for Snow White whose entire personality on a marketing tour for the movie is, ‘I hate, hate Snow White … her incredibly off-putting personality is not the only thing you’ll get out of Rachel Zegler while talking to her.”

Other commentators came to Zegler’s defense, expressing alarm at the level of anger directed toward the actress.

“She’s very talented, and she got the role, and your little Tiky-Toky with millions of views is not going to take that away from her,” writer, actor and content creator Franchesca Ramsey said in a TikTok video.

A user joked on “X,” the site formerly known as Twitter, that the response to Zegler’s jokes was absurdly overblown.

“I thought Rachel zegler ran over somebody grandma or sumn….. imagine my surprise,” the user wrote.

Many pointed out that famous male actors have made similarly dismissive jokes about their own films, without enduring a fraction of the backlash that Zegler has.

While Zegler did not respond directly to the controversy, she wrote on X:

“Remember to be kind. Treat each other with patience and empathy. Remember that you are loved unconditionally, no matter your mistakes, no matter your misunderstandings.”

Why are Zegler’s comments so controversial?

Zegler is far from the first to criticize the passivity of Disney princesses, but that cultural moment has passed; mocking the damsel-in-distress trope is a tired criticism that no longer carries any cultural clout.

Disney’s recent attempts to inject their princesses with more agency have often been criticized as shallow and insincere, by both progressive and reactionary commentators.

Some of the misplaced anger directed at Zegler might be attributed as general frustration toward Disney’s willingness to frame their classic films as hopelessly outdated. Granted, some of them are.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, however, hasn’t aged badly; Snow White is sickly sweet and motherly, sure, cleaning up after the dwarfs with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, but the film is a product of its time, with no room for nuanced characterization.

The upcoming remake was co-written by Greta Gerwig, who isn’t the “girlboss” type; Gerwig’s Barbie is a proudly feminist film that doesn’t reimagine the titular doll as a badass action hero, but a well-rounded character grappling with her own mortality, and complacency in the oppression of the Kens.

Zegler, however, did nothing wrong; she merely commented that the film had been updated to reflect today’s cultural norms, which is perfectly normal.

Zegler’s Snow White is not the first version of the character to be depicted as strong (for example, Snow White and the Huntsman sees Kristen Stewart playing a tougher, more decisive version of the character.)

Viewed through modern eyes, Prince Charming is an excessively weird character who kisses sleeping Snow White, a stranger he believes to be dead. As Zegler points out, a moment like that wouldn’t appear in a live-action Disney remake.

Including that kiss was a creative choice by Disney, and it is not necessarily canonical in the first place.

Altering The Original Fairytale

David Hand, the son of the original 1937 Snow White director, joined the conversation. The 91-year-old, who previously worked as a designer for Disney, told The Telegraph that Walt Disney himself would not agree with the changes being made to the original story:

“They change the stories, they change the thought processes of the characters, they just aren’t the original stories anymore. They’re making up new woke things and I’m just not into any of that,” Hand said.

Snow White, however, has been retold many times; indeed, the very idea of an “original” version of a fairytale is a fiction, as fairytales are an oral tradition that are fluid by nature; even the brothers Grimm revised their stories several times to suit the cultural expectations of the time.

In The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, the prince does not wake sleeping Snow White with a kiss; a servant slaps Snow White on the back, prompting her to cough up the poison apple and wake up.

There’s nothing wrong with joking about old tropes, or altering a fairytale; Zegler’s only “sin” is that she phrased her observations as if they were clever and subversive, rather than decade-old Tumblr discourse.

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