Graphic by R. Bradford
Graphic by R. Bradford

Rachel Zegler: The Controversial Choice for Snow White

Photo from @rachelzegler on Instagram

Rachel Zegler is a big name in Hollywood right now. Following her break-out role in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, Zegler was casted as the leading role in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which is currently number two in the box office and has grossed $136 million in a mere three weeks. Zegler is currently set to appear in a live action version of Disney’s Snow White, which is set to come out in 2025.  

     So far, six live action Disney princess movies have been released. Since the animated versions of these movies have been loved for decades, immense public pressure surrounds transforming them into live action films. The most recent controversy came with the release of ‘The Little Mermaid’ in 2023. Halle Bailey being cast as Ariel brought forth a lot of attention and debate based on the color of her skin being different from the animated version.


Why is she receiving criticism? 

     Rachel Zegler has faced similar controversy to Bailey on account of her Latin heritage giving her a different appearance from the original Snow White. However, further controversy surrounding Zegler’s casting has been brought forth by her own words. In an interview by Variety, Zegler comments on the ‘modern edge’ she put into her role by emphasizing that it’s no longer 1937. 

“We absolutely wrote a Snow White that- she’s not gonna be saved by the prince and she’s not gonna be dreaming about true love, she’s dreaming about the leader she knows she can be and the leader her late father told her she can be if she was fearless, fair, brave, and true.” -Rachel Zegler

     In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Zegler claims she’s only seen the original Snow White once because it scared her.

“I think I watched it once and never picked it up again. I’m being so serious.” She also claims, “It’s extremely dated when it comes to the ideas of women being in roles of power and what a woman is fit for in the world.” – Rachel Zegler

     While initially these quotes may seem empowering, people were disheartened by her apparent distaste for Snow White. The character of Snow White is one many people have admired throughout their childhood, and seeing her live-action actress criticizing her original characteristics seemed ‘pretentious.’ Zegler’s comments cause her to be labeled as ‘ungrateful’ and ‘unappreciative’ of this opportunity and the character she’s meant to portray. 

     In addition, it seemed unfitting that someone who had barely seen the original movie was cast as the lead. The pressure put on the Snow White live action is particularly high because Snow White was the first Disney movie ever released. Additionally, it was the world’s first animated feature film, laying the foundation for Disney’s animation industry. The classic film made history, so the harsh criticism coming from Zegler is worrisome to most. People worry her dislike of Snow White in addition to her unfamiliarity with the movie will diminish her ability to play the role.

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     Another controversy surrounding Zegler’s casting is her comments on Prince Charming made in her previously-mentioned interview with Entertainment Weekly.

“There’s a big focus on her love story with a guy who literally stalks her. Weird! Weird! So we didn’t do that this time. We have a different approach to what I’m sure a lot of people will assume is a love story just because we cast a guy in the movie. All of Andrew’s scenes could get cut, who knows? It’s Hollywood, baby!” -Rachel Zegler

     Prince Charming, and Snow White’s relationship with him, is an important plot point in the original film. The notion of that being altered is upsetting to some. People have claimed there’s nothing wrong with Snow White being a love story, and cutting this part out of the movie in an attempt to make it more empowering is unnecessary. 

     There is also worry that Zeglers “modern edge” to Snow White will completely alter the characteristics that define the character. People claim that not every Disney princess should have to be transformed into a proactive, feminist icon in order to be appreciated and considered a protagonist.  Fans have started referring to the act of criticizing delicate disney princesses as ‘pseudo-feminism’ because not every woman needs to crave power and leadership in order to be deemed special and interesting.      


Previous Princess Comparisons

     Emma Watson, who played Belle in Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, obtained public praise and approval not just through her acting, but through her mindset. In an interview with Total Film Magazine, Watson claims before knowing Beauty and the Beast was going to be made, she was offered the role of Cinderella, but turned it down because she didn’t think Cinderella was enough of a role model. 

     “But when they offered me Belle, I just felt the character resonated with me so much more than Cinderella did. She remains curious, compassionate and open-minded. And that’s the kind of woman I would want to embody as a role model, given the choice.” – Emma Watson

     Watson’s decision to not play a role she didn’t approve of and wouldn’t accurately portray shows maturity as an actress. It causes people to wonder why Zegler would choose to play a character she doesn’t like in a movie she didn’t enjoy. 

     “I know what she meant to me as a young girl. When you love something that much, you really want to do it justice.” -Emma Watson

Graphic by R. Bradford

     Elle Fanning, who played Aurora in Disney’s live-action movie Maleficent, was interviewed by Good Morning America to discuss Aurora’s character in the sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Fanning discusses how in Disney sequels, people often anticipate the princess to be in armor and battle because that’s what people associate with strength. She acknowledges this trope works for certain princesses, such as Mulan who is meant to be a warrior, but Aurora is a warrior in a different way. 

     “There’s a strength in her femininity and softness, and there’s nothing wrong with her wanting to be a mother and be married… and that is still strong.” – Elle Fanning

     Elle Fanning’s praise for different types of women acknowledges and appreciates the full scope of girlhood, providing the comfort that there is no right or wrong way to be a girl. Zegler’s contrasting comments which poked fun at girls who aspire for love and marriage implied that women like that are weak, and women have to be leaders in order to be strong.


Greta Gerwig’s Potential Influence

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     While Zegler’s comments inflict worry that the film will take away Snow White’s femininity, it’s important to remember Greta Gerwig worked on the screenplay of the film. Greta Gerwig directed Little Women (2019) and Barbie (2023). Both of these movies address the pressure constantly placed upon modern women to be ‘interesting’ or ‘different’, and emphasize the beauty found within being ‘ordinary’. 

     The Barbie movie features a scene based around creating an “ordinary barbie.”

“Maybe she’s a mom, maybe she’s not. Because it’s okay to just want to be a mom. Or to want to be president. Or a mom who is president. Or not a mom who is also not president.” -Gloria

     The character Meg March in Little Women dreams of getting married, being a mom, and having a quiet and happy life.

“Just because my dreams aren’t as important as yours doesn’t mean they’re not important.” – Meg March

     While Zegler’s comments imply large changes being made, it is possible Greta Gerwig’s influence will prevent the film from playing into the pseudo-feminism phenomenon.


Some Defend Zegler’s Casting     

     Despite the criticism inflicted by Zegler’s attitude, there are people who defend her. Many claim she’s talented and deserves the role, she simply needs more media training. Ashten Stein, a brand strategist, “Clearly, Rachel has not been prepared properly, and there hasn’t been a proper foundation set for her to be marketing this movie. ”

     Frozen’s Anna, Kristen Bell, agreed with Zegler on the matter, sharing an anecdote about how when reading the story of Snow White to her kids, she noticed a lot of strange and dated quirks within the plot. 

     Fans also specify she never explicitly called Snow White weak, but simply mentioned her version being more modern. In addition, many claim Zegler is not the first to openly criticize her role. People on social media have pointed out that the public finds it entertaining when Harrison Ford and Robert Pattinson openly hate their roles in Star Wars and Twilight, but the reaction to Zegler’s disapproval of her role has been negative and harsh.


   Ultimately, the criticism of Zegler is not a result of her acting, but of her attitude. Whether or not this will impact her ability to play Snow White will ultimately be determined upon the film’s release in 2025.

Graphic by R. Bradford
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