Is the story of Snow White culturally insensitive?

Disney recasts lead actress. What about the seven dwarfs?

People are talking about this one because as big influencers in entertainment like Disney work to be culturally inclusive, think about its suite of princesses from Tiana to Mulan. Also, think about Dr. Suess having books pulled from publication because, frankly, they were insulting to many cultures. This is part of an ongoing dialogue that begs the question, because it is a classic, does it make it right?

DETROIT – Big influencers in entertainment, like Disney, are working to be culturally inclusive as part of an ongoing dialogue.

Dr. Seuss books have been pulled from publication because, frankly, they were insulting to many cultures. The dialogue begs the question: “Because it’s classic, does it make it right?”

Disney’s first “Snow White” film came out in 1938. Since then, there have been numerous iterations of the story and its characters. “Snow White and the Huntsman” is an excellent example of a change in narrative. Instead of a high-pitched demur soprano, Snow White is an armor-wearing, avenging bad mama jama.

It is proof that literature and even the written word is a living, breathing organism that changes with the times as change is not bad and doesn’t hurt the classics, according to Dr. LeeAnne Wilson, a scholar in children’s literature at Husson University in Maine.

“Literature is written in a time and place by a person in that time and place, But what happens is the story is still a universal story,” said Dr. Wilson. “It can then be revisited in another time and place.”

Flipping through the pages of the classics and many movies that depict dwarfs, dwarfism, and little people as mythical, magical, or comical is incredibly painful to Michelle Kraus, who just so happens to have dwarfism.

“When people see people with dwarfism on the street, that’s going to be their instinctual association,” Kraus said. “It’s painful because I don’t want to be thought of in that way.”

Game of Thrones” actor Peter Dinklage has dwarfism, and he is challenging the notion as he continues to say something about how people with dwarfism are being portrayed. He would like to see the dwarfs represented better.

Kraus is glad the well-known actor who also happens to have dwarfism is speaking up. She is happy that the snow is flying on this topic.

“The people at Disney are very creative,” Kraus said. “Just like they thought about casting a Latin actress to play Snow White, I think they can come up with dwarfs being something else. Rather it be creatively reconstructed to have entertainment appeal but to be something safe and appropriate.”

Disney is a powerful company and, for its part, put out a statement saying, “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. We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period.”

“I think it’s a good thing that these kinds of things are being moved forward, that people are wrestling with how to bring the modern world into what we’ve viewed before,” said Dr. Wilson. “How to see it through new eyes.”

About the Authors:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's a Peace Corps alum who spent her early childhood living in Sierra Leone, West Africa and Tanzania and East Africa.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.