From “Moana” to “The Little Mermaid,” Disney prides itself on its diversity and inclusion efforts. Over the last several years, there have been many long overdue changes in many of the Disney characters, including the casting of their princesses.
However, the announcement that the Colombian/Polish actress Rachel Zegler will be playing the one and only “Snow White” has not gone over well with some fans, who are once again labeling Disney as “woke” and “PC.” This came after she spoke with Vanity Fair about the Snow White franchise finally having a Latina princess. This, of course, got some people heated – for no reason.
The bottom line is that casting a talented actress, who happens to be Latina, isn’t a “woke” decision. Their decision to make long-time fairytales more inclusive is a step in the right direction and representative of the world we live in today.
Disney is a well-known company around the globe. They are the sole producers of the most iconic fairytale stories and brought us the extraordinary Marvel and Star Wars universes. Still, the one issue that Disney has (and it’s not their casting decisions) is that they seem to have challenges balancing those three different properties. They all feel the same.
Most of us can remember being a kid and experiencing the magic of a Disney fairytale movie or being enthralled in the adventure of Star Wars. Perhaps we can still recall the magic of going to see a Marvel film with the perfect mixture of comedy, action, and interesting characters. That is no longer the case.
Go on Disney+ now and watch new content from each of those three properties and try to find the differences besides the character names. Aside from the animated Star Wars shows produced by Dave Filoni, there has been an absence of authenticity in Disney lately. There are countless content creators throughout the various social media platforms who feel the same way. Now, there’s a large group of fans who have mistakenly blamed the lack of authenticity on the ethnic changes in the characters, which is a very uninformed stance.
When you think about the iconic animated movies of Snow White, Cinderella, and other Disney princesses, they are all clearly white. We have seen iterations of the characters as white women in books, plays, holiday specials, you name it. Every time the stories are told, the princesses are white women.
The yearning for a new direction
Today’s generation is calling out the lack of representation. Not only is Gen Z the most ethnically diverse generation in American history, but it is also more vocal than any other generation before.
Disney princesses representing different backgrounds are indicative of the society we live in. It is not, as it has been implied (in response to Zegler stating that Snow White is a Latina princess and has a purpose beyond finding a prince) a leftist agenda. The diversity of the Disney consumer has grown and are more invested in the content that’s being released today than decades ago. It’s possible that each generation will see a new wave of live-action Disney fairytale movies no different than James Bond, Spider-man, and so forth.
Being critical of Disney in a different way
If you want to fault Disney for something – it’s when they release a story where the main character gets watered down by new side characters that have nothing to do with the culture of the story.
For example, in “Obi-Wan-Kenobi” the plot is described as “Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi has to save young Leia after she is kidnapped, all the while being pursued by Imperial Inquisitors and his former Padawan, now known as Darth Vader.” Naturally, the main characters should be the three named in the plot.
However, Darth Vader had the fifth most screen time of all characters. Indira Varma’s “Tala” was featured in just 3 episodes but had more screen time than Darth Vader. Moses Ingram’s “Reva” was the only character besides Obi-Wan to be top three in screen time every episode. Moses Ingram was racially attacked on social media when it was a studio issue creating a character that overtakes the story of Vader and Kenobi. Reva’s origin as a character and the performance of the actress is actually very interesting. Reva’s story was just told the wrong way. Even Princes Leia’s story loses its purpose and feels redundant in episodes 4-6.
In “Dr. Strange: Multiverse of Madness,” fans were promised a huge celebration of all of Marvel’s film history. Patrick Stewart returned as Professor X. John Krasinski debuted as Mister Fantastic. Elizabeth Olsen’s “Scarlet Witch” was supposed to turn evil. It all sounded great, but the majority of the movie is Dr. Strange looking for a book with Xochitl Gomez’s America Chavez, a character who has Puerto Rican roots in the comic books but was basically turned into a live-action Dora the Explorer. A more appropriate title would have been “Dr. Strange and Dora Look for a Book”.
An ongoing evolution
It is clear that Disney has a format every few years that their movies follow.
The current format is taking an established male character who is primarily a “loner” and forcing them on an adventure with a young female to develop a father/daughter relationship. We see it in the most recent installments of Thor, Dr. Strange, Obi-Wan, and the new trailer for Antman features Scott Lang with his daughter more than any other character. Everyone loves a surprising and endearing relationship in a story. But don’t make every single one of your stories have the same format for two years, Disney.
If you’re a true Disney consumer, these nuances are far more problematic than a Latina actress stating that “Snow White” is Latina when nearly 20 percent of Americans are Latine and buy more movie tickets per capita.
There are so many examples of ethnic changes in a character working out for the best. The most popular one is Samuel L. Jackson’s, Nick Fury. HBO’s House of the Dragon also changed the ethnicity of an entire family but used it to add to the story.
Here’s the thing: changes should always be welcome, but redefining the identity of a franchise to a company format will never settle well with fans in the long run.
Fans should be supportive of Rachel Zegler, Halle Bailey and whoever else gets the opportunity to play a Disney Princess. The performer should never receive slander for who they are.
It is not too “woke” to make things more inclusive nor will it ever be.