It’s been a week since Deadline announced the casting of actress Rachel Zegler as Snow White in Disney’s upcoming live-action film. The news was largely met with positivity, as many believed Zegler to be more than talented for the role, considering she was chosen to play Maria in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (2021) out of 30,000 applicants. However, a number of people also expressed their disagreement with the casting decision. And very loudly. They claimed that Disney was slowly erasing white characters from their name, first with Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel in the upcoming live-action of A Little Mermaid and now Zegler.
The racism was clear then in 2019, when a #NotMyAriel Twitter movement was made to stop Bailey from playing the infamous mermaid, which Zegler addressed in a now-deleted tweet saying: “Yes, I am Snow White. No, I am not bleaching my skin for the role.” This comes as a response to people attacking her because she didn’t look like the 1930s princess, who has skin “as fair as snow.”
People were—and still are—genuinely angry at the fact that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) actors are playing fictional princesses. Read that again. Fictional princesses whose skin color doesn’t matter because their race has absolutely nothing to do with the story. Yes, they’re mad at that!
And for what reason? Besides their obvious jealousy towards the talented women, it seems these viewers just want to have white characters on their screens forever. They don’t want anyone who doesn’t fit the European standards because, to them, ‘that’s how it’s supposed to be.’
And I’m tired of it. For years, I mean years, the film industry ignored the lives of BIPOC. For Latinx members such as myself, the only steady representation we had in film or television was the stereotypical Hispanic housemaid who spoke broken English or the street gang member that only says “ese.” There was no in between.
Disney is not much help either. While news of Zegler’s casting made my heart warm (both as a Latina and a fan of the humanitarian actress), I still expect more from the film company. In their nearly 100 years of business, they have not yet produced a film where the Latinx community was heavily-focused on and accurately represented for audiences.
Even when they did, like with their 2000 film The Emperor’s New Groove or their newly animated series Elena of Avalor, none of it was promoted as much as other projects like Wreck-It Ralph (2012) or Phineas and Ferb, where the characters are primarily white. Compare their box office numbers and ratings, anyone could see how incredibly unbalanced they are.
Not only that, but the cast of actors are often white and portraying POC characters. What does David Spade know about what it’s like being Peruvian? No, really, I’d like to know—and I hope it’s not the country’s popular dish that is lomo saltado.
White children can easily find a fictional character who looks and lives exactly like them. Whereas, on the other hand, Latinx kids don’t have that luxury. We have to search long and hard for anything that’s close to the reality we live everyday. From the color of our skins to our unique culture(s) to our language, we are simply excited when we find anything near it.
This was true when I was five years old, watching Lilo & Stitch (2002) and being content with having a main character whose skin tone matched mine, despite not being the same race. It was also true when I saw Vanessa Hudgens—a filipino actress—in High School Musical (2006), and had my mom buy me clothes with Gabriella’s face on it because I thought we looked alike.
What people don’t often realize, or choose not to talk about, is that this cycle damages children early on. It causes them to lose sight of their identity and culture because the search for validation takes, well, forever. There’s so little POC representation in general, imagine the difficulty in finding a Latinx example for ourselves in fictional settings.
For me, seeing most characters on my screen as white, led me to wish I looked different. I wondered why I wasn’t blonde, blue eyed, and more importantly, why my parents didn’t speak in English to me 24/7. Spanish wasn’t my first language, but still, I wanted to be an all out ‘American’ girl.
I was hating my identity because I didn’t see myself anywhere; I felt like I didn’t exist, like my life didn’t have a place in the world.
And don’t even get me started on Latinx representation in books. Because, as much as I strided down my elementary school’s library aisles, there was nothing besides a couple of Cinco de Mayo decorations the staff lazily hung up.
The community barely exists in writing and when it does, all of our characters are usually tied down to one issue: immigration. And while some authors tackle this reality of certain Hispanic families incredibly well, *ahem, Across A Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande,* other writers make it out to be like this struggle affects all Latinx people or that it’s the only problem in our lives and nothing else. This does not mean the adversity shouldn’t get a voice, but creators need to also acknowledge the different stories we all have.
We’re all special in our own way. We’re all deserving of getting various representations in fiction and pop culture, not just one idea that groups us together.
This is something I realized when I became an adult. While I was comfortable with my identity long before that, it wasn’t until then that I embraced being Latina. Like fully accepting and loving who I was. Sad to say, it wasn’t because I saw more of myself in fictional worlds. It was because I met and became friends with people who lived similarly like me, in university.
And yet, as amazing as that felt, it shouldn’t take a person eighteen years to fully embrace who they are. It shouldn’t take them any time at all from the moment they’re born.
BIPOC children must be recognized, they must be seen, or else they’ll never feel comfortable in their own skin. And unless you’re in those shoes personally, one has no idea how freeing it is to read/watch something and be able to say, “Hey, that character is just like me! They understand!” Sometimes not even that. Just seeing a character whose accent is exactly like yours or their culture is like your family’s, makes for a comforting feeling.
I hope kids see Zegler’s, Bailey’s, and any future performances by BIPOC actors, and realize they can do anything. That their skin color doesn’t limit their possibilities. I hope that Hollywood and fiction writers continue to focus the lens on these underrepresented communities. The chances to do so are never ending.
Write stories about them. Write about Hispanic folks (this includes Afro latinx too). Just give representation for audiences to relate to and appreciate. It’s really not that much to ask for.
And while I’m at it, Disney, I’m begging you to give me a Latinx princess with connection to real Hispanic culture in a blockbuster feature film. Like decades ago, please.