Peter Dinklage Calls Out Disney Hypocrisy in Planned Live Action ‘Snow White’

Published January 27, 2022

Back in the Summer of 2021, Disney announced plans for yet another live-action remake of an animated classic, this one pulled from the shelf after nearly 100 years in the vault, Snow White and (presumably) the Seven Dwarfs. On the heels of the less-than-satisfying Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Aladdin, and Tim Burton’s Dumbo remakes, this new announcement had many asking questions, most notably, “Why?”

Perhaps anticipating how offensive the remake might be for just about anybody (all women, especially women over 40, people of color, little people), Disney decided to cast a Latina actress in the titular role, Rachel Zegler, the star of last year’s West Side Story remake from Steven Spielberg (Hollywood loves these remakes, don’t they?). Presumably, the animation giant thought that casting a woman of color in the titular role would somehow erase the problematic plot and details of the 1939 original, a story whose specifics have not aged well in the last 83 years − whiteness is equated with beauty, and then beauty itself and youth are deemed the only desirable qualities in a woman, not to mention the fact that the only thing that can save our heroine is a non-consensual kiss from an entitled rich dude who will then take her on as his property.

On Monday, January 24th, acclaimed actor Peter Dinklage guested on the popular WTF podcast hosted by comedian Marc Maron where the two discussed many aspects of Dinklage’s long career including his struggles to come to terms with ambition. Dinklage is an actor with dwarfism who is likely most beloved for his all-knowing yet sloshy turn as Tyrion Lannister in the HBO smash Game of Thrones, but his other prominent credits include blockbusters like X-Men and The Avengers, as well as Oscar bait like The Station Agent and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In their discussion, the topic of the Disney remake came up, and Dinklage did not hesitate to call out the hypocrisy of “woke” casting while still featuring one-note characters with dwarfism that could go on to perpetuate dehumanizing stereotypes that are harmful to little people.

“There’s a lot of hypocrisy going on. Literally no offense to anyone, but 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. Take a step back and look at what you’re doing there. It makes no sense to me. You’re progressive in one way, but then you’re still making that…backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together? Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soapbox? I guess I’m not loud enough.”

Dinklage admitted the remake might work if the story took a more progressive spin or if it was revamped for a twisted or cool take but maintained that a straight remake of the old Snow White was thoroughly tone-deaf.

The problems with the 1939 version

Dinklage’s criticism lays bare the offensive and dehumanizing portrayal that the original presented of people with dwarfism. In the original film, each little person is reduced to a single character trait (Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy, which isn’t even a character trait, just an involuntary bodily function), effectively turning these “characters” into caricatures. It’s reductive and invites stereotyped views of people with dwarfism, negatively affecting how little people are treated in real life. Additionally, these characters live solitary, isolated lives in the woods with no interests of their own (besides workin’ the day away in the mine) and exist solely to service the character development of some whimsical white lady they took in off the street, not as fully-realized characters in their own right. This approach to these characters deprives them of their humanity and in turn, can influence viewers to perceive real little people as less than human. Compare this to Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister who is a multi-faceted, fully realized character with as many noble characteristics as he has flaws. And what’s more human than flaws?

Disney’s response

For their part, Disney has (sort of) addressed Dinklage’s criticism in a statement made on January 25th to The Hollywood Reporter:

“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. We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period.”

Reading between the lines of this statement, it seems like Disney is aware of the problematic nature of the original, though when that dawned on them is unclear (before or after Dinklage’s interview?). The Hollywood Reporter also reported that at least up until this controversy, Disney intended for the little people characters to be CGI, a choice that would literally and not even metaphorically rob them of their humanity. While it appears that approach was nixed, it will be interesting to see what the "different approach" is, given that Disney has stated that they intend to take the consultation from the community seriously to craft a finished product with fully realized characters who feel authentic and are more than Snow White’s roommates.

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