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Woke Disney Snow White vs. The Brothers Grimm

It’s both amusing and enlightening to compare the original Brothers Grimm Snow White (1812) to the new, woke Disney Snow White which is due to come out next year. The Snow White of the Brothers Grimm “Little Snow-White” is not a feminist icon. She’s a modest, beautiful young girl–and she should stay that way. 

“Little Snow-White” starts out with the queen wishing to have a child with the following qualities: 

"If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood in this frame."

By “white,” the queen is referring to pallid skin; after all, this was written in Germany. By “red as blood,” the queen is referring to ruby-red lips. By “black as the wood in this frame,” and later “ebony,” the queen is referring to Snow White’s dark hair. And indeed this is how Sow White has been portrayed historically. With this in mind, Rachel Zegler might seem like an odd casting choice. But that’s ok. Some people are perturbed by the choice of Zegler, but I’m ok with it. 

Snow White’s biological mother dies, and her father remarries the women we know as the evil stepmother. She becomes upset when her mirror tells her that Snow White is hotter than she is: 

“You, my queen, are fair; it is true. 
But Snow-White is a thousand times fairer than you.”

From here, the queen has Snow White taking to the woods to be killed by a huntsman. The huntsman, however, takes pity on Snow White, basically because she’s beautiful: 

“Because she was so beautiful the huntsman took pity on her, and he said, "Run away, you poor child."

Contrary to Zegler’s promotion of the film, the huntsman did not decide to let Snow White escape because of her “leadership skills” or some such thing; rather it was explicitly “because she was so beautiful.”  

She finds the house of the dwarves, who return home upset that Snow White has used their cutlery and laid in their beds. But they decide to make an arrangement with Snow White. A big part of the dwarves’ styming their anger is, once again, when they see how pretty she is: 

“This child is so beautiful!”

From that recognition, they arrange for Snow White to live with them, if she’s willing to do chores and housework: 

The dwarfs said, "If you will keep house for us, and cook, make beds, wash, sew, and knit, and keep everything clean and orderly, then you can stay with us, and you shall have everything that you want."

Snow White did not respond with anger or indignation as though such work were beneath her. No, she quite willingly accepted this role as the Dwarves housewife/ housekeeper. 

When the evil queen learns of Snow White’s existence, she uses a couple disguises to trick Snow White in the aims of killing her. Snow White, meanwhile, is naive to the queen’s tricks. The evil queen, disguised as an old woman, gives Snow White a poisoned comb, and then an apple, which finally does Snow White in. 

The point is that Snow White falls for these tricks because she’s naive. And what does it mean to be naive? It means that she’s a good person and assumes the same goodness in others, due to a lack of experience with the hard-scramble world. But this is not to disparage Snow White; it’s to say that we love her in her eternal innocence. This contrasts starkly with the arrogance and irreverence which Rachel Zegler has displayed in promoting the film. 

The one and a half minute trailer for the film makes the boss-girl themes of “courage” and “resilience” explicit; themes, incidentally, which have nothing to do with the Snow White character as written by the Brothers Grimm. In that 1812 text, time and again people take pity on Snow White and help her because she is beautiful, and because her beauty speaks to an internal goodness in her. No one is attracted to Snow White because of her “leadership skills.” Snow White, “a child as white as snow,” represents purity, innocence, and goodness, as contrasted with her stepmother’s vanity and vindictiveness. Far from being “resilient” and a “leader,” the original Snow White is endearingly naive. Yet that depiction of a young woman, however realistic, is no longer allowed in film. 

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