Gabriel Bouys/Getty Images, Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
Rachel Zegler finds herself at the center of another Disney princess outrage. But the way this particular one came about demonstrates the inner workings of a cycle for whipping up fury.
Who is she? Zegler is a 22-year-old actress and singer who had her breakout role in Steven Spielberg’s 2021 West Side Story remake.
- The New Jersey native’s background in acting and musical performance led to her being cast as the lead role in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Snow White, which is scheduled for release next year.
What’s the big deal? That’s a good question. A series of months-old interviews with Zegler have resurfaced and been turned into viral videos that are fueling negative reactions to the casting and reimagining of the story.
- In the interviews, some of which were from last year, Zegler offered her thoughts on the story of Snow White and how it has aged since the original cartoon in 1937. In one interview, Zegler says the dynamic between the princess and the prince was “weird,” and says the story had been altered to fit a more modern message that shifts away from romantic love and more towards empowering women.
- “She’s not going to be saved by the prince. And she’s not going to be dreaming about true love. She’s dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be, and the leader that her late father told her that she could be if she was fearless, fair, brave and true,” Zegler told Variety in an interview that was posted online last September.
- These comments, paired with the fact that the actress’ complexion and Polish-Colombian background didn’t fit the standards of many online trolls, led to Zegler’s name being inundated with posts recently that criticize her casting — an almost exact repeat of the abuse Halle Bailey faced for her starring role in The Little Mermaid.
- Some online conservatives chalked up Zegler’s statements to their overarching theory of a “woke culture” takeover.
- Some Disney fans took issue with an interview where Zegler admitted that she wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Snow White growing up, a comment they felt to be an unfair takedown of one of their beloved childhood movies, and evidence of an actress who didn’t express enough gratitude for the role.
- A cursory scroll of key words related to Zegler and the movie on social media shows thousands of posts expressing a loss of interest in the film, racism towards the actress, and suggestions that the film is enduring a “PR crisis.”
Want more on the culture debates? Listen to the Consider This episode about how the battle over book bans takes a toll on librarians.
What are people saying?
TV writer and producer Franchesca Ramsey on why she believes Zegler’s treatment is out of proportion:
One of the things I really dislike about social media, but this app [TikTok] specifically, is it really thrives on negativity. And so now I’m seeing an uptick in videos about how much people dislike Rachel Zegler because she has theater kid energy and maybe didn’t phrase herself perfectly. But in reality, she didn’t say anything negative about the film … I’m having a little bit of Deja Vu: Weren’t folks upset when a Black woman was cast as a mermaid and suddenly it’s, “Why not just make a new story, why did they have to change it?”
You don’t have to be friends with Rachel Zegler. She’s an actress. She’s going to play a character in a movie that you will either enjoy, or not enjoy, or not see.
The 91-year-old son of the original film’s director, David Hand, shared in an interview with the Telegraph recently that he thought the new concept was “a disgrace:”
It’s a whole different concept and I just totally disagree with it, and I know my dad and Walt would also very much disagree with it.
They change the stories, they change the thought process of the characters … they’re making up new woke things and I’m just not into any of that. I find it quite frankly a bit insulting [what] they may have done with some of these classic films … There’s no respect for what Disney did and what my dad did … I think Walt and he would be turning in their graves.
NPR reached out to Zegler’s team for comment, but at the time of publication, did not receive a response. Here’s what she has shared online:
i hope the world becomes kinder
— rachel zegler (she/her/hers) (@rachelzegler) August 11, 2023
i love you very much. forever and ever. remember to be kind. treat each other with patience and empathy. remember that you are loved unconditionally, no matter your mistakes, no matter your misunderstandings. you deserve it. you deserve love. you deserve to live without fear. x
— rachel zegler (she/her/hers) (@rachelzegler) August 12, 2023
So, what now?
- It’s likely the online fury won’t translate to the box office, if recent history is a guide. After receiving similar treatment, The Little Mermaid was review bombed online — a third of users rated it only 1 star on imdb.com — yet it went on to gross more than $560 million at the box office worldwide.
- Instead, this may just be the latest in a series of internet storms that rages for a time before the cycle moves on to the next thing.