Is a feature film with seven dwarfs living and working together in a cave old-fashioned and stigmatizing? The announced Disney film adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has been criticized.
The discussion started yesterday when the 1.35 meter tall American actor Peter Dinklage (52), known from the HBO series Game of Thrones, was negative about the film. He called the fairy tale, among other things, “backwardly old-fashioned”. Disney then said that it had spoken with several minor people to modernize the story.
There were also critical voices elsewhere. “It’s totally inappropriate,” said petite British comedian Fats Timbo on the program Good Morning Britain. She falls over, among other things, the use of the name dwarf. “The name dwarf is a medical term, but it also stands for a mythical creature. As soon as people see a small person, they think that we are a mythical creature, that we have no personality.”
She complains that the dwarves barely have a backstory and are completely at the service of Snow White in the story. She also agrees with Dinklage’s criticism that it is strange that seven small people live together.
Jan Braem disagrees with Dinklage. He is a small person and actor himself and played a supporting role in, among other things, Dutch Hope. He also owns the event agency Short People Agency, which hires little people for movies and events.
Braem calls it “no problem at all” to use small people as dwarfs in a Snow White film. “Last year I starred in a commercial about Snow White. I starred in it with six other little people and an actress who was supposed to represent Snow White.” He sees the fairy tale as a “respectful” story. He can imagine that other small actors are getting angrier about this. “I know little actors who wouldn’t take on such a part.”
The Interest Association of Small People also recognizes that the members do not have a clear opinion about this. “But as a board we do agree that these kinds of fairy tales are no longer of this time,” says treasurer Jilis Oudshoorn. “Through these kinds of fairy tales you have to deal with stigmas and they do no good to what we want to convey about small people.”
Peter Dinklage, who sparked the discussion, played Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones for years:
After the commotion around the film, Disney said it had sat down with small people about modernization, but Oudshoorn still feels little for the new version. “Dinklage played in Game of Thrones a small person, but he portrayed it realistically. He was a human being instead of a caricature.” As far as he is concerned, that is not possible in Snow White. “Then you really have to change everything and then little of the original fairy tale remains.”
Media scholar Dan Hassler-Forest disagrees. “Our stories are constantly part of who we are and what we think is important. It is not desirable if we pretend that these kinds of stories do not exist.” According to him, Snow White is part of our popular culture. “It is better to make a new version, but one that is adapted to our current understanding.”
‘Casting gets better’
Oudshoorn thinks the discussion that Dinklage started fits in with an era. “I think the dialogue has been getting more and more involved lately and the roles for which little people are being cast are getting more serious.” As an example he mentions a member of the association who played the role of a psychiatrist in a series and another small person who played a teacher in a Dutch series.
“In recent years we have become more aware of stigma and exclusion and the role that media play in this,” says Hassler-Forest. According to him, the discussion about small persons in films lifts along with the discussion to see other minorities more in films in ‘normal roles’. “That has definitely had an impact on casting. There is a greater awareness that not everyone lives up to a certain idea of what they should look like.”
Oudshoorn hopes that this trend will continue and that small people will be cast more often in serious roles that have nothing to do with their height. “What we really want is that there is a realistic picture of reality. Small people can be found in all layers of society and I think the film world should be a realistic reflection of that.”
However, he feels little for a quota of small actors. “Then you may soon get actors who can’t act very well at all and who are only used to meet a quota. It has to grow organically.”