Explained: Disney's attempt at inclusivity, with Columbian actor Rachel Zelger cast in Snow White adaptation

·3-min read

Colombian-American actor Rachel Zegler will play Snow White in Disney's latest live-action adaptation, the company said on Tuesday.

Here's a brief background on the actor and Disney's recent attempt at becoming more inclusive through diverse casting and multi-cultural storylines.

Who is Rachel Zelger?

  • Rachel Zegler, 20, is currently largely unknown to audiences but will soon star as Maria in Steven Spielberg's much-delayed remake of West Side Story, out in December, having seen off 30,000 rivals in an arduous open audition process.

Director-speak on Zelger

  • "Rachel's extraordinary vocal abilities are just the beginning of her gifts," said Marc Webb, director of the Snow White adaptation, in a statement to Agence France-Presse. "Her strength, intelligence and optimism will become an integral part of rediscovering the joy in this classic Disney fairytale," he added.

Recent instances of similar casting

  • Disney announced in 2019 that R&B singer Halle Bailey, who is Black, will play Ariel in The Little Mermaid, a role traditionally portrayed by white actors.

  • Cuban-American singer Camila Cabello is set to appear as Cinderella in yet another live-action adaptation later this year, produced by Sony-owned Columbia Pictures and set for release on Amazon Prime Video.

Disney criticism

  • In 2018, Disney came under criticism for "whitewashing" Princess Tiana in the cartoon movie Ralph Breaks the Internet, hastily redrawing the character with darker features just months before the film's release

  • In a recent "kiss without consent" controversy, the Disneyland opening was criticised after it chose to include a particular scene to its Fantasyland ride Snow White's Scary Adventures "with such old-fashioned ideas of what a man is allowed to do to a woman."

Recent Disney films that have focused on multi-cultural plots

  • Coco: It is the first Pixar film, from the Latinx community, which focuses on Mexican cultural celebration. Latinx is a gender-inclusive way of referring to people of Latin American descent.

  • Mulan: The film is a remake of Disney's 1998 animated film, which follows the story of Mulan, the daughter of an ageing warrior, Fa Zhou. She impersonates as a man to replace her father during a general conscription during the Han Dynasty.

  • Soul: The film follows the journey of Joe Gardner, a Black middle-school band teacher (voiced by Foxx) and how he is about to find his true calling. Having lost his passion for music, Joe seeks the help of a soul named 22 to find his way back and, in the process, learns a lot about himself on a journey of discovery, introspection, and self-realisation.

  • Moana: The film's plot was described as "On a mystic island in Polynesia, the 16-year-old strong-willed daughter of the chief of the tribe, Moana from Motunui Island, is chosen by the ocean itself to reunite the Heart of Te Fiti. She sets sail in search of Maui, a legendary demigod and hopes to save her people."

  • Raya and The Last Dragon: As per the official logline of the film, "a lone warrior, Raya, must track down the legendary last dragon to stop an evil force that has returned after 500 years to once again threaten her homeworld, Kumandra." The first Southeast Asian-centred film from Disney, Raya and the Last Dragon also features Awkwafina, Sandra Oh and Gemma Chan as the voice cast. The film is directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting) along with Paul Briggs and John Ripa co-directing it.

(With inputs from agencies)

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