Rachel Zegler’s Snow White doesn’t need rescuing. What’s wrong with that?
In the summer of 2021, Disney announced that West Side Story star Rachel Zegler would play the lead role in their upcoming remake of Snow White.
The casting news was welcomed by most, but a minority of internet trolls targeted Zegler and Disney with racist abuse, claiming that the Disney princess, who is renowned for her porcelain skin, should not be played by a Latina actress.
Zegler responded to the abuse on Twitter, writing: “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.”
She concluded with a message of hope, writing: “I hope every child knows that they can be a princess no matter what.”
The racist reaction to Disney’s casting news was depressing but not entirely surprising. After all, Halle Bailey, who played Ariel in the recent remake of The Little Mermaid, was also subjected to horrific levels of racist abuse at the time of her casting.
Two years on from Zegler’s casting announcement, the actress has once again been targeted with criticism, this time for promising viewers a reimagined, more modern princess.
In a 2022 press interview about the film, Zegler told reporters: “It’s no longer 1937. We absolutely wrote a Snow White that is not gonna be saved by the prince. And she’s not going to be dreaming about true love. She’s dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be.”
This week, the resurfaced interview gained major traction on TikTok. Predictably, some creators stitched the video, and accused Zegler of, and I quote, not being “appreciative of being a Disney princess” and for “questioning the essence of Snow White”.
What was less predictable, however, was a surge in videos from self-proclaimed feminists, taking issue with Zegler’s stance that Snow White could be a leader.
The main talking points among her new batch of critics is that Disney’s original Snow White was perhaps not as passive as some claim. They argue that the 1937 Snow White was empowered, because she escaped abusive circumstances and learned to live a life on her own terms in the forest, before ultimately being rescued by the prince and finding love.
In one TikTok video which has now racked up over 3 million views, creator @cosywithangie describes the criticism of Disney princesses, such as the original Snow White, as “pseudofeminism”.
@cosywithangie Just because a woman values something different, does not make her any less valuable. Some women want a career and not marriage. Some women want a marriage or family and not a job. Some women want BOTH. All are to be heard, and seen, and valued. Write stories about ALL women and depict them ALL as valuable and worthy, instead of trying to mold them into one specific image of what you deem worthy. Thank you. #snowwhite #snowwhiteliveaction #snowwhitecontroversy #disney ♬ original sound – Angie | Self Care
The video stitches the aforementioned interview with Zegler, and appears to challenge her take on Snow White as being contrary to feminism.
“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,” she says.
Another creator, @Lama.lha, claims that Disney is “trying to push an agenda onto young girls that you don’t want Prince Charming, you don’t want to be saved and you don’t want love.”
She continues: “Instead, you should only and exclusively want to be a leader that saves herself. That’s not feminism.”
Lama then suggests that Disney is “pushing an agenda” that it’s wrong to want both love and leadership.
“This is not what we should teach our girls. We should teach our girls that you’re able to have whatever it is you want. It’s OK to want to be saved. It’s OK to want Prince Charming. That, in itself, is feminism in my opinion.”
These creators’ arguments that feminism means being able to choose love as well as freedom and autonomy is completely valid, and worth exploring. And it goes without saying that these videos cannot be compared to the outright racist abuse targeting Zegler online. However, the centring of this argument entirely on a snippet of an interview from Zegler is unwarranted.
Zegler was merely expressing her own hopes for her princess in this one film. She never claims that it’s anti-feminist to want the prince, or that the pursuit of love is contrary to women’s liberation.
Instead, she shares her vision for Snow White, who, in her perspective, is a princess who chooses to be a leader, and who doesn’t want to be rescued. If feminism is about choice, and a variety of perspectives, then surely Zegler’s interpretation of Snow White is just as valid as these other creators?
It’s also worthwhile to note that as Zegler becomes the target of criticism from all sides of the spectrum, the argument ultimately shifts from nuanced conversations on modern feminism into a firestorm of hate.
At the bottom of the majority of videos on the topic, the suggested search bar from TikTok is “Rachel Zegler being annoying”, while many of the comments sections of these videos have attracted derogatory comments about Zegler herself.
In this fierce backlash, Zegler has become both the target of racist and derogatory abuse while also being expected to replicate a very specific form of feminism. This demonstrates a truth we know all too well – we simply cannot win.
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