Another day, another Disney animated film is up for a lesser live-action remake. The latest film dusted off from the vault, however, has created a stir with Peter Dinklage.
In a recent episode of Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast, the "Game of Thrones" actor Peter Dinklage criticized the upcoming "Snow White" remake for its portrayal of the title character's mentors and saviors.
Last June, it was announced that "West Side Story" star Rachel Zegler — who is of Colombian and Polish descent — would play the film's titular character. While her casting made the character more inclusive, that same degree of thoughtfulness however, was not afforded to the narratives of Snow White's seven companions.
"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,'" Dinklage told Maron.
"Take a step back and look at what you're doing there. It makes no sense to me," Dinklage continued. "You're progressive in one way, but then you're still making that f**king backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together? What the f**k are you doing, man? Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soapbox? I guess I'm not loud enough."
On Tuesday, Disney quickly responded to Dinklage's remarks in a statement 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," the statement detailed. "We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period."
Consulting with members of the dwarfism community is a step in the right direction, because this is not merely a casting issue but one of storytelling and characterization. Snow White's dwarf friends have traditionally been depicted as less than fully realized people, basically there to work in the mines and offer her shelter. The Brothers Grimm fairy tale in 1812 doesn't even give them separate identities or names, referring to them as "the first one," etc. Subsequent adaptations have given them cutesy, non-human names (such as Dopey or Sneezy) and depicted them as childlike or as the vehicle for jokes.
As with many issues regarding authentic and nuanced representation, the benefits are not just for those in the community to see themselves on screen. Rather, the way people are portrayed also affects those outside of the community by how they regard and treat people of color, with dwarfism, with disabilities or other marginalized groups in real life.
Throughout his career, Dinklage has been outspoken about the on-screen portrayal of people with dwarfism. In his 2012 Golden Globe acceptance speech, Dinklage urged his audience to Google a name — Martin Henderson. Henderson, who was 4-foot-2, was left partially paralyzed after being thrown by an unknown, drunk Rugby fan in 2012. Four years later, Henderson passed away at the age of 42.
"People are all, like, I dedicated it to him," Dinklage told The New York Times. "They've made it more romantic than it actually was. I just wanted to go, 'This is screwed up.' Dwarves are still the butt of jokes. It's one of the last bastions of acceptable prejudice. Not just by people who've had too much to drink in England and want to throw a person. But by media, everything. You can say no. You can not be the object of ridicule."
Dinklage is not involved in the production of Disney's "Snow White." At this time, Gal Gadot, who is slated to play the Evil Queen, and Tony Award winner Andrew Burnap will star alongside Zegler.
Disney previously sought advice from Pixar's lead cultural consultant Marcela Davison Avilés during the production of its 2017 animated film "Coco" — which centers on Mexico's Día de los Muertos holiday. The entertainment conglomerate also employed cultural consultants for its 2019 live-action remake of "Aladdin." According to a Conversation article by Evelyn Alsultany, Disney reached out to Middle Eastern, South Asian and Muslim scholars, activists and creatives to help prevent stereotyping, which was also a major issue in the 1992 animated feature. Alsultany — who is an associate professor of American studies and ethnicity at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences — was part of the group.