Film Corner!

[Content Note: Rape culture; bodily appropriation; spoilers for Snow White and the Huntsman.]

detail from movie poster for Snow White and the Huntsman, featuring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth

So, Iain and I saw Snow White and the Huntsman this weekend, about which we were really excited. Whooooooooops! You know how a lot of the promotional stuff for the film heavily implied this was a feminist reboot in which Snow White kicks ass blah blah fart? Yeah, not so much.

Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is pretty much a straight-up Evil Feminist stereotype—a survivor of rape who has become a vicious, crazy, narcissistic, power-hungry, magic-wielding man-murderer. And Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is pretty much a straight-up Good Christian Girl stereotype—a pure virgin of exquisite beauty who says her prayers (literally) and is not complete without the true love of a man (who, by the way, tells her "don't flatter yourself" when she fears he intends to rape her while ripping off her skirt to enable her movement through a forest).


The movie is visually beautiful, and the costumes are absolutely stunning, but that's about all there is to recommend, unfortunately. Besides the retread of the Evil Queen vs. Pure Princess stuff, it's just quite a slow and disjointed film. Melissa Silverstein smartly observes: "[T]his film is the directed by first time director Rupert Sanders. Here is a guy who was handed over $100 million to make this movie. And with that money he created a gorgeous looking mess of a movie that just doesn't hold together. No first time female director would have been given that much money, ever."

A problem, as they say.

My biggest issue with this film, however, is something of which I was totally unaware going in: The eight dwarves are played by known actors of typical stature (Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, et. al.), made "dwarven" through a combination of trick photography, CGI, and actors with dwarfism wearing masks of the famous men's faces.

image from the film of the Huntsman with some of the dwarves

I will spare you my profanity-riddled rant (which Iain had to endure in the car on the way home, for what was approximately the one-millionth time) about the inherent problems of conflating people with dwarfism with the fantasy character class "dwarf," but I will say this: Superimposing the faces of actors of typical stature over the faces of actors with dwarfism is not helping that problem. Afuckinghem.

It is gross to borrow the bodies of people with dwarfism and give them to people who have achieved some level of fame only because they do not have dwarfism, and then defend that choice because there aren't enough famous actors who are dwarves.

And let me be clear about these roles: They were minor characters in the film. (Way beneath the pay grade, so to speak, of an actor like Peter Dinklage.) Were there a need for famous faces, or advanced acting chops, I failed to discern it. The entire reason for casting famous actors of stature seemed to be so the audience could be "delighted" by the trickery of "dwarving" Bob Hoskins and company.

There was absolutely no reason that actors with dwarfism couldn't have been cast in these roles, been the faces and voices of the characters as long as they were going to be the bodies.

And in further disappearing, according to this interview with Kristen Stewart, some of the doubles used to play the dwarves were women—but all of the known actors whose faces and voices were superimposed were male.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that people with dwarfism have to play dwarves. Among people with dwarfism, there is diversity of opinion on whether the association with the fantasy class is so injurious as to resist that type of casting. I can understand why a person with dwarfism might prefer to see casting like a typically-statured John Rhys-Davies' portrayal of Gimli in the Lord of the Rings franchise that breaks the association with mythical dwarves. I can also understand why an actor with dwarfism worries about losing some of the best paid gigs for dwarf actors in an industry that fails to tell real stories that include people with dwarfism. With the very occasional notable exception.

My criticism is specific to the borrowing of bodies with dwarfism as if the people who inhabit them aren't attached, and giving those bodies to other actors. It's the fat suit problem, the black/yellow face problem, except even worse, because it's not merely marginalized people's identities being appropriated, but their actual physical bodies.

Sorry, SWATH. I'm invoking the Soul Man, Starring C. Thomas Howell, Rule. Fail.

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