Words by Emma Norris
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a childhood favourite of mine; I had a particular attachment to the dwarf Dopey, carrying a soft toy of him everywhere I went. Of course in the contemporary, we can reflect on the portrayal of the dwarfs, all named childishly after their dominating personality traits – Dopey, Sneezy, Happy, etc. -, as not fully people. The characters are defined, named, only by their disability; the concept of dwarfism becomes a strange caricature, a synonym for this fantastical state of being, a stereotype that finds itself seeping into real-life perceptions of disability.
In response to the news that Disney is creating a live-action remake of the film, set to feature the same portrayal of dwarfism as the original film, actor Peter Dinklage publicly expressed his distaste for the casting choices, deeming them as ‘f*cking backwards’. This isn’t the first time Dinklage has advocated for the proper representation and fair treatment of those with dwarfism, using his 2012 Golden Globe acceptance speech to pay tribute to a man with Dwarfism in England who had been the victim of a violent assault, targeted because of his height. But the truth is, we shouldn’t be relying on people with dwarfism to advocate for fair and accurate representation; in the 21st century, characters shouldn’t be defined by their disabilities and dwarfism shouldn’t repeatedly appear as a personality trait.
Responding to Dinklage’s claims, actress Kiruna Stamell raises an important point; even when actors with dwarfism are comfortable being type-casted into a certain role, they pose the risk of unintentionally reinforcing stereotypes onto other individuals with dwarfism. Stamell recounts experiences with strangers calling her ‘mini-me’, singing ‘hi-ho, hi-ho’ to her, both being references to dwarfism in film. Disabled voices are not listened to, the lived experience of people with dwarfism is overlooked, allowing for the fostering of harmful and belittling stereotypes. Disabled people fail to be represented in the media in ordinary ways; instead, more often than not, their disability becomes a personality trait, a comedic trope, a way for able-bodied people to belittle and stereotype those who do not fall into the category of ‘normal’.
Whilst Disney has responded to criticisms by promising to ‘avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film’, it is abundantly clear that there is still a long way to go in terms of removing harmful stereotypes from the film industry. For the remake to be successful in its representation of people with dwarfism, Stamell argues that people with the disability themselves need to be consulted at every level of production; from casting to scripting to filming, people with dwarfism should have an input in the way their disability is represented on a global scale. It is clear that, societally, we still have a long way to go in order to make the film industry an equal and fair environment for every minority group.
What’s on – February 2022
Bigbug – Released 11/02 on Netflix
Set in 2050, Bigbug is a French sci-fi comedy by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director of Amelie, 2001), following the lives of individuals who become locked in and controlled by AI robots.
Moonfall – Released 03/03 in cinemas
In this sci-fi drama, the moon is knocked from its orbit and is on a collision course to Earth, risking imminent world annihilation. It is up to two astronauts and a conspiracy theorist to set off on an impossible mission to save the planet.
Jackass Forever – Released 04/02 in cinemas
The fourth film in the Jackass franchise, the original gang return for a display of comedic, dangerous, adrenaline-filled and utterly absurd stunts.