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Good Dwarfs and Bad Dwarfs
Disney’s seven dwarfs are apparently bad because they have ridiculous names designed to appeal to small children
I admit that I have zero interest in defending Disney in general, or their live-action remake of the Snow White story specifically. Judging from comments made by the lead actress, Rachel Zegler, it looks this movie is meant to spread propaganda using the Snow White brand as a vehicle. Regardless, I do want to comment on a side-controversy coming from people suffering from “Restricted Growth.” People suffering from dwarfism, in other words. The Telegraph quotes actor Peter Dinklage and a representative of the Restricted Growth Association who are critical of Disney’s choice to remake Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.
“I was a little taken aback when they [Disney] were very proud to cast a Latina actress as Snow White, but you’re still telling the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” [Dinklage] told Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. “It makes no sense to me. You’re progressive in one way, and you’re still making that f______ backwards story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together, what the f___ are you doing, man?”
Those sentiments were echoed by the Restricted Growth Association in the UK. “I very much stand with Peter Dinklage on the disappointment and irritation towards Disney for the remake of Snow White,” Rhonda Cutmore, a member of the association, told The Telegraph.
“As a 46-year-old woman with restricted growth, this story has always had a negative impact on me. Not just the physical characteristics, but the labelling of ‘Dopey’ and ‘Bashful’, were not helpful in the playground.”
While I can’t say I’m surprised that this complaint is being leveled, I find it hard to take seriously. Now maybe the Restricted Growth Association in general is more consistent in their principles of how dwarfs should be portrayed in television and movies, but I don’t think Peter Dinklage is. He’s protesting the names of these dwarfs and how their portrayed, but he’s most famous for playing Tyrion Lannister, a character with dwarfism in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Tyrion was a very complex and ultimately beloved character of the show, but he had several nicknames throughout the course of the show that could certainly be used to demean people suffering from dwarfism: “The Imp” or “Half Man” come to mind. Certainly a more realistic portrayal than Disney’s seven dwarfs, but it’s not fair to compare Tyrion Lannister, a human suffering from dwarfism, to the race of dwarfs that Disney’s characters represent; a better comparison would be to the dwarfs of Middle-Earth or Narnia.
Lo and behold, in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Peter Dinklage plays the role of Trumpkin. Trumpkin is not a human suffering from dwarfism, but a member of the race of dwarfs in the fantasy-land of Narnia who seems to live in a glorified cave or in the wild hiding from the Telmarines who have taken over Narnia in the absence of the great lion Aslan and the true kings and queens. So why are Narnian dwarfs with silly names and cave-dwelling tendencies seemingly morally superior to Disney dwarfs in Dinklage’s mind? Trumpkin is a less offensive name on the face of it than Dopey, I suppose, but, again, we’re talking about fantasy characters in two children’s stories. And, like Trumpkin, it’s not as if Disney’s dwarfs aren’t heroic characters in the story despite their silly names. Actually, Disney may have the moral high-ground in this case as I don’t believe there is a single dwarf depicted as being bad, whereas Narnia has the evil dwarf Nikabrik.
What about J.R.R. Tolkien’s dwarven-race introduced in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? Tolkien certainly gives his dwarves a more noble backstory and bearing than Disney’s dwarfs, but Thorin Oakenshield is really the only dwarf in The Hobbit with any distinguishable personality (Unless you count Bombur whose only defining traits are being immensely fat and being the most useless of the company). They are also still a fantasy race, rather than humans suffering from dwarfism, who live in caves and are, as a general rule, obsessed with gold and treasure. Many are heroic, yes, but in general can still be reduced to various offensive stereotypes. One line from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie stands out as an example:
I would cut off your head, dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground.
This comes from the human Éomer, one of the heroes of the books and movies who ultimately goes on to become the king of Rohan, and is said to Gimli, the main dwarven character of the series. Did Dinklage or the Restricted Growth Association object to this type of representation in film? If not, why not? Why are Disney’s fantasy race of dwarfs, with their admittedly stupid names that are aimed at amusing children, more offensive than depictions of other fantasy dwarfs or even reality-based humans suffering from dwarfism? If they’re not worse, why has Dinklage portrayed such offensive characters in the Narnia film or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe films where he portrayed the dwarf Eitri?
It seems to me that this is just more performative outrage than genuine concern about these types of characters or their greater impact on society at large. Maybe Dinklage portrayed these types of characters in the past and has since changed his mind, but it’s a discrepancy he needs to address if he actually wants anyone to take him seriously on the subject. Frankly, I don’t think it matters how Disney portrays these characters as this movie is most likely doomed from the beginning. Just as there was no reason to remake any of their other original cartoon films, there is no reason to remake Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs unless it’s to add some propagandistic message overtly or covertly. As evidenced by the failure of their recent remakes, I would suggest that the public in general has grown tired of Disney’s propaganda attempts and won’t bother wasting their money.