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Disney casting for Snow White remake causes social media stir

The film that propelled Disney forward as an animation legend is getting a live action revamp. This time, Snow White is, well, not so white.

Rachel Zegler, the actress and singer known for playing Maria in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, has been casted for the lead role of Snow White.

Born in America of a Colombian mother and Polish father, the colour of Zegler’s skin is being contested as inconsistent with the storyline for which the film’s main character is named after, who has ‘skin white as snow, lips red as blood, hair black as night’.

Rather predictably, when anything deemed ‘sacred’ or ‘classic’ is altered to modern times, there awaits a digital army ready to challenge it on social media.

The choice not to cast a typically white actress for Snow White, also known as ‘the fairest of them all’, has sparked some interesting hot takes that are worth being explored. General excitement, annoyance, and disappointment are just a few of the public’s attitudes, but not for the reasons you might think.

Positive and progressive

Let’s start on a high note. Like many who have heard the news, Zegler is obviously very excited about the opportunity to take on the role of one of Disney’s first and most iconic princesses.

Some took to Twitter to say they’re so happy about the decision that they didn’t even consider how the colour of Zegler’s skin would affect the plot of the story.

Those who did notice are convinced that the story’s focus on the fairness of Snow White’s skin will be tweaked or removed entirely – because the importance of how white she is feels so 1937 anyway.

Ultimately, the perception of this group is – congratulations, cool, and who cares about the details?

Recognising ‘race-swapping’

On the other hand, some believe that casting a woman of mixed ethnicity as Snow White is a non-sensical publicity stunt to make Disney look good.

The company also made similar waves when they casted Halle Bailey, a mixed-race singer and actress, as Ariel for the live action version of The Little Mermaid.

Many are suspicious that Disney’s recent pattern of choosing ethnic actors for its white cartoon characters is an act of tokenism rather than an effort to produce true diversity.

The perception of this group is – nice try, but why?

Taking a slightly similar tone are those who suggest that replacing originally white characters with actors of ethnic backgrounds is unimaginative and performative.

Instead, they suggest new characters and storylines which celebrate their cultures could be developed. For those with this view, ‘race swapping’ via remakes isn’t enough.

Both are solid points when looking at Pixar movies which have done a fabulous (and heart-warming) job at celebrating difference – from movies like Finding Nemo, Coco, and the most recent, Luca.

The perception of this group could be classified as – do better, Disney.

Patching up past mistakes

May I play devil’s advocate?

Late last year, Disney issued a statement acknowledging the harmful stereotypes that some of its classic films portray to viewers. The media giant’s entire collection is currently available for streaming on its platform Disney Plus, reviving their fairy tales for old and new audiences.

The depictions of ethnic people and cultures in several films have been criticised, specifically in Dumbo, Aladdin, Rapunzel, and Pinocchio. From anti-Black and Arab stereotypes to non-consensual kisses and child-trafficking, there’s a lot to unpack.

Before these films begin, a short disclaimer is presented addressing the outdated portrayals of certain characters, cultures, and locations.

It’s a relatively easy way for the company to attempt washing its hands of blame for its detrimental historical bias while keeping its classics alive.

At the same time, the admission signifies Disney’s awareness. Plus, it looks like where ethnicity is truly relevant to the story, they’ve cast this accordingly, such as in the live action remake of Mulan.

You have to ask – are people really angry about Snow White being played by a woman of mixed ethnicity? Or is it rooted in something deeper, such as the long-standing lack of accurate ethnic representation in mainstream media as a whole?

Representation in the future

Generally speaking, audiences in the West have become more aware of how damaging a lack of representation (or inaccurate representation at that) in media has been for those who haven’t typically appeared as main characters on screen otherwise.

This includes race and ethnicity, but also extends to the LGBTQ+ community, or characters who are disabled, or have mental health issues – to name but a few.

Perhaps Disney classics are just too outdated to adequately fit into our modern society. Admittedly, the widespread ‘troubled-princess-awaiting-her-prince-to-save-her’ narrative in many of the movies might be a little out of touch with one of the central movements of our time, feminism.

But as differing cultures become more interconnected, and Gen-Z enters the workforce – calling the shots in board rooms and becoming major decision makers – it wouldn’t be far-fetched to hypothesize that representation for all previously marginalised groups will increase over the coming decades.

So, is casting a half-white actress for a fully white fictional princess really problematic?

Indeed, it would be far more interesting to see new and original story lines which showcase the richness of other cultural identities – but criticising a casting decision because the actress isn’t deemed white enough does seem slightly hypocritical.