Disney, Original Stories, and Skin Tone… (Part 1)

So, here’s the thing.  It bothers me that people scream “whitewashing” with Disney when it comes to skin colour.  People always point out “Disney makes the good guys pale and the bad guys dark.”  This statement has always bothered me because when I think back through them, I don’t see bad guys as dark.  If nothing else, I think of them as lighter-skinned/coloured.  So, I decided to create a series of posts using screencaps and giving a summary of the originals.  

Are there other things in the stories that are “whitewashed” in order to appeal to upper and middle class American girls of European descent?  Sure.  Do the princesses tend to have Caucasian features in general?  Yes.  Disney wanted their primary audience to relate to their movies and, like it or not, up until recently (if you consider the history of the company), that was what they considered their primary demographic.  Unfortunately, with the strength of imperialism in our world’s past, often the more “ethnic” a woman looks historically, the more self-conscious they were/are about their features because status came from looking like the ruling class.  Now, thankfully, we live in a time that is becoming more enlightened and most people find beauty in all of the races, cultures, and ethnicities.   As a result, Disney is now considering a much wider demographic, thankfully, and we are getting more variety in our princesses.

Also, yes, I know that we can debate the positives and negatives of Disney movies all day long.  We could look at relationship issues, damsels in distress, flat romantic male leads, women as protagonists, gender issues, etc.  I’m not addressing every topic under the sun.  Books could be written on the politics of Disney (and probably have been).  This is one series of posts.  If you have a topic you want my thoughts on in regards to these movies, or any movie, I’m happy to rewatch and post thoughts on said topic.  Just let me know.

First up…

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

  • Original Author/Work: “Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm
  • Original Summary: 

In the middle of winter, the queen is sitting at her window working on some embroidery.  The frame she was working within was made of ebony, the snow she was looking at was white, and when she pricks her finger, three drops of blood fall.  She then proceeds to wish for a daughter made of these three colours, gives birth, and promptly dies.  A year later, the king remarries, thus giving us our first Evil Stepmother of the bunch.

Stepmommy had a magic looking-glass that she would stand in front of and say, “Looking- glass upon the wall/Who is fairest of us all?”  The looking-glass always responded with, “You are fairest of them all.”  This made her happy and she did it every day for years.  Of course, when Snow turns seven she’s gloriously beautiful as only little children can be and the mirror replies with “Queen, you are full fair, ‘tis true, But Snow-white fairer is than you.”  Ouch.  Time to ramp up that jealousy and hatred.

One day, when she can’t take the mirror’s response any longer, she calls the Huntsman and says, “Take the child out into the woods, so that I may set eyes on her no more. You must put her to death, and bring me her heart for a token.”  The Huntsman, being a human being says he’ll do it and then feels bad for killing a little girl.  So, instead, he lets Snow run away and brings back the heart of a boar, which the queen promptly has cooked up and eats for dinner.  Ahhh, cannibalism…

Snow, meanwhile, is wandering the woods looking for a place to shelter.  She finds this little home and goes all Goldilocks on things and starts trying everything out.  When the dwarfs get home they pull the whole “Somebody’s been ______ing in/on/from my ________” and get thoroughly annoyed.  When they go into the next room they see her laying in bed and are so overtaken by the beautiful child that they accept her immediately, say they’ll protect her from the evil queen–so long as she cooks and cleans for them–and set about doing just that.
The queen, of course, gets the message from the looking-glass that states essentially, “You’re pretty, but Snow is prettier…nanny nanny boo boo” and the queen starts to plot death.  Because, really, what’s a queen to do.  Using magic, she then proceeds to travel the seven mountains to the seven dwarfs’s house and does the following (each with a mirror bit between them):
Queenly plot #2: Lace her up.  The queen pretends to be a pedlar, sells Snow White some silk, talks her way into the house, and proceeds to lace up the pretty child so tightly that it takes away Snow’s breath.   The dwarfs come home, see the issue, cut the laces, and she breathes once again.  They then tell Snow again: don’t let anyone in.

Queenly plot #3: poisoned comb.  She pretends to be a goodwoman, convinces Snow to let her into the house (really, how dumb is this chick?), plays to Snow’s vanity, and then combs the princess’ hair.  The Dwarfs come home, totally realize what happened, and remove the comb.  Voila!  She lives!
Queenly plot #4: Death by poisoned apple.   The queen dresses as a peasant and brings Snow an apple that’s half white and half red.  She convinces Snow, who’s really jonesing for an apple slice for no apparent reason, to eat the red (read: poisoned) half of the apple while she eats the white.  Snow chokes and falls down dead.  The dwarfs show up and do everything they can think of, including washing her with wine, and nothing works. They’re so sad and she’s so pretty that they have a glass coffin made so they can look at her all the time and cry.  They carry her up a mountain and one of them always stays with her.  Also, an owl, a raven, and a dove come by to weep.
One day a prince comes by, sees dead Snow White laying about in her coffin and falls instantly in love/obsession and begins to beg the dwarfs for Snow’s body.  (Necrophilia?)  The dwarfs finally give in when the prince says he’ll treat them like brothers and protect her.  The prince tells his servants to pick up her coffin and carry it.  They do so and then trip over a shrub.  The jostling dislodges the bit of apple–and because princesses can’t suffer from oxygen deprivation or brain death–suddenly she wakes up!  
Snow White’s all confused, as one tends to be after coming back to life for the third time, the prince confesses his obsession/love and they decide they’re going to get married.  So, they go riding off to the prince’s kingdom and get married with all sorts of pomp.  The queen, meanwhile, is doing the whole mirror thing and gets this response: “O Queen, although you are of beauty rare, The young bride is a thousand times more fair.”  Now really, what could piss the queen off more than that?  I mean, she’s already killed the girl four times (or so she thought) and her plans just keep failing.  Obviously, the queen decides to hunt down this bride and when she gets there she finds Snow White.
No, the story doesn’t end with “And they all lived happily ever after”.  In fact, the queen’s so angry and terrified (WHY WON’T SHE STAY DEAD????) that she stands still and lets them put red-hot iron shoes on her.  She’s then forced to dance until she falls down dead.  

  • Place: Germany
  • Did the Story Change: Yes.
  • Good Guys (Main): Snow White & Prince Charming

  • Villains (Main): Evil Queen (both forms)

  • Skin Colour Comparison: Pretty much everyone in this movie is pale, but that makes sense considering it’s location.  Prince Charming is a bit darker than the other characters.  Also, the witch is a little more red than any of the others.  In hag form she’s downright ugly/creepy.

Next time…Cinderella

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