Rachel Zegler in Snow White: The Misogyny and Racism Behind the Backlash

22-year-old actress Rachel Zegler is a fast-rising star, featured as lead character Maria in the movie adaptation of West Side Story and Lucy Gray in the blockbuster Hunger Games prequel, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Recently, she has been cast as Snow White in Disney’s live-action Snow White remake, accompanied by actors like Gal Gadot and esteemed screenplay writers like Greta Gerwig. As a Latina actress, Zegler will bring diversity and a fresh portrayal of the Snow White classic fairytale. However, recently, social media discourse has surrounded some of Zegler’s perceived controversial statements. 

Before Zegler’s contribution to Disney’s Snow White remake, the movie had already received independent criticism. Emmy-award-winning actor Peter Dinklage, who has a form of dwarfism named achondroplasia, commended the film for incorporating a Latina actress but condemned them for the backward portrayal of the seven dwarfs, especially in the depiction of them living in caves. As a response, the movie creators commented, “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.” Following this report, the role of the seven dwarves was set to incorporate a cast of actors with diverse genders, ethnicities, and heights. Commenting on the wave of further critiques for the movie for being too “politically correct,” Zegler noted, “Yeah, it is– because it needed that.” However, following this alteration, the movie received further backlash for more than its seven dwarves portrayal. 

In an interview with Variety, Zegler made several remarks about the Snow White remake plot alterations and her personal feelings toward the original story. She noted that “it’s no longer 1937” and Snow White is “not going to be saved by the prince, and she’s not going to be dreaming about true love; she’s going to be dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be and that her late father told her that she could be if she was fearless, fair, brave, and true.” Some were off-put by Zegler’s statements, arguing that women can be fearless while also being in love and taking alternative paths from solely being a leader. As Zegler continued the interview, she mentioned that Prince Charming could be cut from the movie as she believed he was “a guy who literally stalks her” with a “weird” storyline. Zegler also noted that she had only watched the original movie once before attaining the part of Snow White, and she found the movie scary, causing further uproar from those who claim she did not respect the story and was not grateful for receiving the beloved role. Social media debate even sparked outrage from David Hand, the son of the original Snow White director, as he noted that Zegler’s disregard and new interpretation of Snow White was not what his father or Walt Disney would have agreed with. However, many have been quick to defend Zegler’s comments and critique the widespread scrutiny as a form of sexism and racism. 

Like Zegler, many male actors have made negative remarks about their films. However, they received little to no criticism. Actor Robert Pattinson, who played Edward Cullen in the hit Twilight movie series, publicly stated that the Twilight novel “wasn’t supposed to be published” and even left the movie premiere because he “couldn’t handle it.” Yet, the public’s view of Pattinson is overwhelmingly positive, with many finding his distaste toward the series humorous and endearing. Additionally, even though the internet has taken Zegler’s comments to argue that she is not grateful for her role, Zegler has claimed she cried after seeing herself as Snow White on-screen with appreciation for her opportunity to bring diversity to the character. Thus, many wonder if the extreme hate against Zegler is fueled by misogyny. Zegler even initially received heavy and racist backlash for being Latina while portraying Snow White as the fairest of all. She responded in a currently-deleted tweet, “Yes (I) am Snow White, no (I) am not bleaching my skin for the role.” Considering this unwarranted scrutiny, people’s disapproval of Zegler’s casting could likely be fueled by a racist attempt to find reasons to bring down Zegler’s success. 

Disney’s Snow White live-action remake is set to premiere in 2024, and Zegler noted, “Never in a million years did I imagine that this would be a possibility for me. You don’t normally see Snow Whites of Latin descent, even though Snow White is a big deal in Spanish-speaking countries.” Though internet discourse has distracted the public from the movie’s instrumental forging of new paths with an inclusive new perspective, Zegler looks forward to representing her community in the beloved classic fairytale remake.

Works Cited

Colopy, Jess. “‘Leave Rachel Zegler Alone’: The Sexism & Racism Behind the ‘Snow White’ Backlash.” Inside the Magic, 25 Aug. 2023, insidethemagic.net/2023/08/rachel-zegler-sexist-backlash-jc1mmb/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023

Emma Powell Deputy Showbusiness News Editor. “EXCLUSIVE: Snow White and the Seven… Politically-Correct Companions? First Pictures of New Live-Action Remake of Disney Classic Shows Stand-in Princess Walking with Diverse Band of Merry Men and Women after Row over Using Dwarf Actors.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 14 July 2023, www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-12298801/EXCLUSIVE-Snow-White-Seven-Politically-Correct-Companions.html. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.

Hargrave, Sam. “Rachel Zegler’s Snow White Controversy Explained: Is Disney’s Movie in Trouble?” The Direct, 27 Sept. 2023, thedirect.com/article/rachel-zegler-snow-white-disney-movie-controversy. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.

Hills, Megan C. “Remembering How Much Robert Pattinson Hated Being in Twilight.” Evening Standard, 11 Aug. 2020, www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/celebrity/remembering-how-much-robert-pattinson-hated-twilight-now-that-midnight-sun-has-been-announced-a4432611.html. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.

Lopez, Kristen. “Peter Dinklage Said the Seven Dwarfs Are an Insult, but the Reality Is More Complex.” IndieWire, 5 Feb. 2022, www.indiewire.com/features/general/peter-dinklage-snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-backlash-little-people-1234695983/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.