Snow White: Why has the Disney remake provoked controversy?

The 1937 classic is being given a modern retelling

Snow White
Disney's 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is being given the remake treatment (Disney).

Disney's upcoming Snow White remake looks set to be the latest flashpoint in the online culture wars, taking the baton from the studio's other recent remake: The Little Mermaid, and, of course, Barbie.

The film stars Rachel Zegler and Gal Gadot as Snow White and the Wicked Witch, and it promises to be a modern retelling of Disney's very first movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was originally released in 1937.

While filming has only just finished and it doesn't come to to cinemas until 2024, it's already provoking a lot of online chatter - but why?

Why is the Snow White remake so controversial?

Rachel Zegler's Snow White comments

US actress Rachel Zegler attends the world premiere of
Rachel Zegler will star as Snow White in Disney's remake of the 1937 classic. (Getty Images)

Recently, Snow White has become a topic particularly on social media platform TikTok where clips of actor Rachel Zegler speaking in 2022 are currently going viral for the wrong reasons.

Read more: Every upcoming Disney animation heading our way, from Wish to Frozen 3

One such video sees Zegler share how the film has been written with a modern audience in mind so the notion of Snow White experiencing true love is not something that will be a major part of the story, and she claimed that the original's Prince Charming was a stalker.

At D23 Expo in October 2022 she told ExtraTV: “The original cartoon came out in 1937, and very evidently so. There’s a big focus on her love story with a guy who literally stalks her. Weird! Weird! So, we didn’t do that this time.”

Read more: Snow White star Rachel Zegler’s remarks resurface in TikTok debate (The Independent, 4 min read)

Zegler also told Variety: “We absolutely wrote a Snow White that... she’s not going to be saved by the prince, and she’s not going to be dreaming about true love.

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs  Prince & Snow White
Rachel Zegler has called Prince Charming a stalker when she said the new take on Snow White won't focus on her character's romance (Disney).

“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.”

This has drawn quite a lot of criticism on social media, with some users complaining that women shouldn't be looked down upon for wanting to fall in love or get married.

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 09: (L-R) Rachel Zegler and Gal Gadot pose at the IMDb Official Portrait Studio during D23 2022 at Anaheim Convention Center on September 09, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb)
Rachel Zegler and Gal Gadot are set to star in the new version of Snow White. (Getty Images for IMDb)

One TikTok user who uses the name @CosyWithAngie said: “Criticising Disney princesses is not feminist. Not every woman is a leader. Not every woman wants to be a leader.

“Thinking that a woman is any less valuable because she falls in love or because she accepts help from somebody instead of girl-bossing her way through her problems is not feminist.”

The actor has not commented publicly about this backlash.

Rachel Zegler's casting

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs film
The Disney remake has been criticised by some for casting Zegler as Snow White. (Disney)

As happened with The Little Mermaid, Disney's decision to cast their princesses with an actor of colour has drawn some criticism from a vocal minority, often with racist undertones.

Zegler is of Colombian and Polish descent and the actor has faced a lot of racism since her casting as Snow White was announced, which she has addressed on social media.

Read more: Halle Bailey addresses racist backlash over 'The Little Mermaid'

Hitting back at the abuse, Zegler said on X — formerly known as Twitter — in a statement: "Extremely appreciative of the love I feel from those defending me online, but please don’t tag me in the nonsensical discourse about my casting. I really, truly do not want to see it.

“So I leave you [with] these photos! I hope every child knows they can be a princess no matter what”

In her post the actor shared pictures of her as a child where she was dressed up as Disney princesses, like Snow White and Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

Backlash towards Zegler's casting is only the latest in an ongoing online culture war which has seen some people criticise Hollywood for going "woke" because of its focus on stories centred on women or people of colour.

D23 EXPO 2022 - The Ultimate Disney Fan Event presented by VISA - brings together all the worlds of Disney under one roof for three packed days of presentations, pavilions, experiences, concerts, sneak peeks, shopping, and more. The event, which takes place September 9, 10, and 11 at the Anaheim Convention Center, provides fans with unprecedented access to Disney films, series, games, theme parks, collectibles, and celebrities. (The Walt Disney Company via Getty Images)
Gal Gadot, Rachel Zegler
Gal Gadot and Rachel Zegler introduce Snow White at Disney fan event, D23 2022. (The Walt Disney Company via Getty Images)

These criticisms often have misogynistic or racist undertones, movies like Barbie and The Little Mermaid are recent examples of movies drawing backlash for these reasons.

While female-led superhero shows like Marvel's 2022 Disney+ series' She-Hulk: Attorney At Law and Ms Marvel have also been review-bombed (where members of the public leave multiple negative reviews to deliberately decrease its rating) and heavily criticised online.

The decision not to use the seven dwarves

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs features the characters like Sleepy, Happy, Sneezy and Dopey. (Disney)

Another aspect of the original animation that has been changed in the live-action film is that only one of Snow White's seven friends will be played by a person with dwarfism.

The seven characters have been renamed "magical creatures" and are of different genders, race and stature, which was revealed in photos taken of filming when it was in production. This led to debate that the film has "gone woke" on one side of the fence.

Meanwhile, on the other side, when the film was first announced Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage criticised Disney for making a film featuring seven dwarves as he felt that was "backwards".

Read more: Hugh Grant should not have been cast as an Oompa Loompa in Wonka, says actor with dwarfism (The Telegraph, 3-min read)

In an interview on Marc Maron's podcast WTF, per Reuters, Dinklage said: "Literally no offence to anything, but I was a little taken aback... 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.

US actor Peter Dinklage arrives for
Peter Dinklage has previously criticised Disney for making a Snow White remake (AFP via Getty Images)

"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 you’re still making that f***ing backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together?

"What the f*** are you doing, man? Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soapbox? I guess I’m not loud enough."

A Disney spokesperson later said 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."

Snow White is currently set to premiere on March 22, 2024.

Watch: Ben Shapiro complains about Snow White casting