Walt Disney announced the Snow White live-action remake in October 2016 to be released on March 22, 2024.
Interviews with the lead actress, Rachel Zegler, have led to controversy surrounding the message of the film. “I just mean that it’s no longer 1937 and we absolutely wrote a Snow White… that’s not gonna be saved by the prince and isn’t dreaming about true love,” said Zegler in an interview with Variety.
In the age of empowerment and feminism, this seems like a good move for Disney. Many of the recent Disney films with a “strong and empowered” female protagonist have performed well such as Frozen, Moana, and Brave. However, after this big wave of fan support for female independence from Disney, there has been a lapse in support.
Criticism for the Snow White remake came about after the Variety interview with Zegler went viral on Tiktok. Viewers criticized Zegler’s one-dimensional view of the film. One commenter said, “I never thought of Snow White as just the girl that needs to fall in love with someone. watching the film, she did so much more than just fall in love.”
The annoyance with the change in the film’s plot was also enhanced by other changes, such as the film not casting little people to play the seven dwarfs. There has been criticism about Zegler being half Columbian when Snow’s name is in reference to her being “as white as snow.” Also, Disney viewers are over the number of live-action remakes in recent years.
“There have been so many live-action remakes lately, and I think it’s odd because some of these movies just came out, like Moana, and they are already doing remakes,” said Marley Brunson, senior.
Balancing Modernization and Preservation
As society has changed, and women are becoming more encouraged to branch out from traditional gender roles, the media has changed. Disney has begun to move away from the “man save princess” trope that we saw in many early films.
While this is great when there are new films being released, when you are diverging from the original story it can promote a different message.
“The whole idea of feminism is that you can do or be whatever you want, and I feel like we are kind of getting away from that, and forcing people to be ‘girl bosses,’ which is great if that’s what you want,” said Lexie Duncan, senior.
When you take the 1937 story of Snow White and create a character who doesn’t resemble the original heroine it sends the message that it’s not okay for girls to want a domestic life. While it is important to create a film that aligns with the target audience, there is a way to modernize the film without demonizing certain choices.
Take the 2019 Aladdin live-action remake, for example. In the film, Jasmine had a much larger role than in the 1992 version and became Sultan in the film, unlike the original. Aladdin was able to create a role for Jasmine, which saw her as more of the hero, while still staying true to the original film.
They were able to do this by making small changes such as giving Jasmine a song, having her not want to get married because she could be Sultan herself, and her character being overall more ambitious.
Since these changes were still true to the character, viewers didn’t feel they were watching an entirely different movie, nor that Jasmine’s character in the original film was inherently wrong.
Changes similar to Aladdin are what critics of the Snow White remake are hoping for. However, many are apprehensive due to Zegler’s comments to Variety about the film.
“I mean, if they have smaller changes that just make Snow White a better character that’s great, but it sounds like they are going to change huge parts that make Snow White Snow White… In that case, they should just make a new movie,” said Brunson.
Female Empowerment is More than Independence
Symbolic Interaction is a sociological theory that states that people get their meaning from things based on the culture and society around them. If the culture, which can be passed through TV and movies, says school is important and everyone should go to college, the people who subscribe to that culture will likely value that as well.
If the culture says that women should no longer want a domestic lifestyle, then participants of that culture will likely value a more non-traditional life.
It is important to empower women, especially after so many decades of women being forced into a box. But, by completely redesigning old films and erasing classic tropes, the media sends the message that the culture no longer values women who may want to fall in love and get married, and put women into a box on the opposite end of the spectrum.
“I think of it as like when old Disney movies had racist scenes or something; then when they put it on Disney Plus they got rid of it because, of course, that’s not okay. When they are getting rid of tropes like the prince saving the princess, it is telling people that is not okay… It’s for sure different when they are making brand new movies though,” said Brunson
While this new wave of empowered women is a great step in shifting the culture to appreciate independent women, trying to erase old tropes sends the message to viewers, especially young girls, that wanting a prince to sweep you off your feet is frowned upon. Doing this sends the message that Disney, and in turn the culture, believes that the only way women can feel empowered is by being independent.
“It’s almost like they’re forgetting you can want to be in love and still be independent because a lot of the new movies only have one or the other… it makes people feel like they have to choose,” said Duncan.