Voices: Peter Dinklage is right – the Snow White remake is ‘f***ing backwards’

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It would actually have been perfectly possible for Disney to update the film by removing the ableism and making Snow White and, I don’t know, the Band of Thieves. There is precedent (AFP/Getty)
It would actually have been perfectly possible for Disney to update the film by removing the ableism and making Snow White and, I don’t know, the Band of Thieves. There is precedent (AFP/Getty)

Disney has, in recent years, made a truly stupendous amount of money with live action remakes of its classic animated properties. They’ve not always been of the highest quality, but that hasn’t stopped families flocking to see them. As such, it has been a case of let’s dig into the archives, hire directors and actors, and lather, rinse, repeat.

I guess we shouldn’t be all that surprised then, that the House of Mouse is reportedly moving ahead with an adaptation of the one that got it started: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And I guess we shouldn’t be all that surprised, given Hollywood’s long and continuing record of ableism, that with dollar signs floating before movie executives’ eyes, it seems to have missed the problem.

Peter Dinklage got to the nub of it, and created a storm, when he said: “I was a little taken aback when they were very proud to cast a Latina actress as Snow White. You’re still telling the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Take a step back and look at what you’re doing there. It makes no sense to me.

“You’re progressive in one way and you’re still making that f***ing backwards story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together, what the f*** are you doing man?” Exactly.

Dinklage’s career is suggestive of modest progress in some respects. He got to play a mob boss in the bitingly satirical Amazon/Netflix feature Who Cares, which helped draw attention to the problems with the sort of conservatorship Britney Spears was under at the time of its release.

It mattered because his stature wasn’t a part of the plot. Fifteen or 20 years ago, he probably wouldn’t have been cast because people with what is commonly known as “dwarfism” – and probably shouldn’t be – were shoehorned into very particular roles of the type you can probably guess.

But modest is still the word to describe the progress that has been made, as Disney’s reductive plan amply demonstrates. “We are taking a different approach with these seven characters and have been consulting with members of the dwarfism community,” said the company, having been moved to respond to Dinklage.

Yes, but the makers of Come As You Are, a comedy featuring three disabled characters, not one of which was played by a disabled actor, said the same thing. Sia, the director of Music, which concerns autism, said she based the eponymous character on a non-verbal neuro non-typical friend. She said the role would be “too stressful” for an autistic actor to play because of its backward-looking scenes of restraint. Numerous autistic actors, who struggle for roles as anyone outside of a narrow subsection of society does, begged to differ.

Consulting means absolutely nothing if you only hear what you want to hear and if you only see what you want to see, and if you are solely focussed on slobbering over a sea of cash. While Hollywood counts its green, others have to live with the consequences of the prejudice it has encouraged. People like the late Martin Henderson, who was picked up and thrown by a drunken rugby fan in an apparent attempt to mimic the appalling alleged behaviour of the England rugby team in New Zealand. Dinklage raised his case in his speech upon winning a Golden Globe and Henderson’s name was trending on Google afterwards. But there was “dwarf throwing” in Paramount’s The Wolf of Wall Street anyway.

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Even if the live action remake of Snow White is “different” – and about that, I have my doubts – it will inevitably draw attention to the original, which is regarded as a classic and plays an important part in motion picture history, but depicts the seven dwarves as child-like, argumentative and incapable of properly looking after themselves. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the problem of calling a character “Dopey”, which today looks like a rather cruel mockery of people with learning disabilities.

I know. I know. I’m going to get accused by the usual suspects of being “woke” or even indulging in cancel culture. I’m not asking for that at all. I am asking for Disney to exert its corporate brain. You know when you’re in the wrong when Donald Trump Jr, who seems to think that it’s only rich, entitled, gun totin’ white men who experience prejudice, rounds on your critics. Oh god, now they’re after Snow White!

It would actually have been perfectly possible for Disney to update the film by removing the ableism and making Snow White and, I don’t know, the Band of Thieves. There is precedent.

But how about, instead, Disney puts its vast resources into a few more original stories, which it has proven time and again that it can successfully produce, like this year’s excellent Encanto, which features a cast of Latino actors, or last year’s Raya and the Last Dragon? Or perhaps something daring featuring actors with disabilities in roles where they’re not being portrayed abusively?

Oh, right – the money. So just do a damned live action remake of Tangled. Or Moana. No, no, I’ve got it – remake Frozen. Ker-ching.

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