‘The fairest one of all’

Rachel Zegler (from West Side Story) and the 1937 animated Snow White (image copyright 20th Century/Amblin and the Walt Disney Company)

Exclusive to MeierMovies, February 1, 2022

Today’s culture wars can find controversy in anything. Case in point: Disney’s latest live-action remake of a classic fairy tale.

First published in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the first American feature-length animated movie in 1937 when Walt Disney created his modern classic. Fast-forward 85 years, and the classic is apparently not modern enough for some. Indeed, Disney has cast Rachel Zegler, a partially Hispanic actress who wowed audiences in Steven Spielberg’s recent remake of West Side Story, as Snow White. Never mind that the Grimm Brothers describe the character as having “skin white as snow.” Disney seems more intent on taking a stand on colorblind casting and equal representation than sticking to the story.

Disney does have a point. Why create a tale exactly the same way it’s been created a hundred times? (The story has even been reimagined with an all-Black cast, perhaps most notoriously in the Warner Brothers cartoon Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, from 1943, which is, sadly for freedom of speech, now one of the “Censored Eleven.”) And, of course, Zegler’s talent deserves a chance to shine in more than just the typical “actors of color” roles. Nevertheless, if there’s one role in all the Grimm kingdom that demands a White actor, this might be it. Still, looking at Zegler side by side with the 1937 animated character, the resemblance isn’t as far off as one might think. (Zelger is actually half-Polish, which illustrates just how silly these ethnicity conversations are. And if White actors can play Shakespeare’s Othello — and they should — why can’t a slightly less-than-White performer play Snow White?)

Zegler is actually not where the recent controversy lies. It’s in the little details, literally. Peter Dinklage has criticized Disney for sticking with the core of the story: the dwarfs. The most acclaimed little-person actor working today, Dinklage has challenged Disney to rethink the tale. And Disney has apparently agreed, promising to reimagine the characters as “magical creatures.”

Whether or not you like that decision, let’s address the elephant in the screening room: the title. It’s “… WHITE and … DWARFS”! So is it time for a new one? Snow Brown and the Seven Creatures? Or, snarkiness aside, The Fairest One of All? Or maybe Disney should stop cannibalizing its canon and come up with new ideas.

The most interesting aspect of this debate is that Dinklage is opposed by other actors with dwarfism who support the casting of little people. See MovieWeb.com. So before you rush to agree with Dinklage, assuming the politically correct views on this are one-sided, I’d encourage you to exercise some common sense and speak from your heart, like Snow White did.

Most importantly, let’s respect one another’s opinions – especially the opinions of the vast majority of moviegoers, who will forever cherish the original masterpieces: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Dumbo (1941), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955) and other films that have come under fire recently from some on the Left. History is complicated, as is art, so let’s not lay guilt trips on people for the things they love. Even more importantly, let’s not censor (or self-censor) art or deprive audiences of the chance to make up their own minds about what they might or might not find offensive. I’m talking about you, Song of the South.

But, circling back to Shakespeare, maybe this is all much ado about nothing.

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