What did Peter Dinklage say about the seven dwarfs in Disney's new Snow White movie? Why is he right? Let's be clear!

The internet is shaking forindignation towards the latest news created on the bugbear of politically correct. It's raining click-catch articles. I've even read about real "calls to arms", of people in Facebook groups asking to go under the Disney studios to protest. (No, I'm not kidding, sadly.)
In short, the wave of indignation mounts, because "the politically correct has exaggerated" and "they are ruining Snow White" and "now not even the dwarfs are good". You have surely heard of that Peter Dinklage, the actor who played Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, criticized Disney for the possible choice to include the characters of the seven dwarfs in the new Snow White film. And that Disney has announced it will make sure it doesn't bring stereotypes about dwarf people to the screen.

Now, there are often fragmentary news around, mini-articles thrown up quickly in the rush to grab as many views as possible and, in short, a lot of misinformation about the whole thing.
Some say Dinklage was actually attacking Disney for choosing to have a Hispanic actress in the role of Snow White. There are those who say that the fairy tale of Snow White cannot exist without in dwarfs. And there are those who say that dwarves cannot be offensive, because they are part of Northern European folklore.
But what are the facts? What did Dinklage say? And is there really a stereotypical view of people with dwarfism in fairy tales like Snow White?
We will try to understand this in this article.

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Peter Dinklage accepts Emmy as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for Game of Thrones in 2018. Photo by Neilson Barnard / FilmMagic
Peter Dinklage accepts Emmy as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for Game of Thrones in 2018. Photo by Neilson Barnard / FilmMagic

What did Peter Dinklage say?

For the uninitiated, Peter Dinklage is a actor American.
He is best known for playing Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, a role in which he won several awards, including a Golden Globe and an Emmy. Peter Dinklage also played the dwarf Trumpkin in it The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Bolivar Trask in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Eitri in Avengers: Infinity War, and more recently Cyrano in Cyrano
Dinklage is also a person with a named genetic disorder achondroplasia, that is, from one of several forms of dwarfism existing.

On January 24, Peter Dinklage participated as a guest on a podcast: WTF with Marc Maron, directed precisely by the stand-up comedian Marc Brown. More precisely, Dinklage was the guest of the episode 1299.
In this episode, Dinklage and Maron talked about various things in a fairly informal way starting from minute 11. After talking about ambition, Game of Thrones and the relationship between politics and comedy, at the minute 55:45 you start talking about snow-white, up to the minute 59:45. Dinklage says:

The words of Peter Dinklage, in original

It's really progressive to cast a… Literally no offense or anything, but I was a little taken aback by the… They were really really proud to cast a Latina actress as Snow White, but you're still telling the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Well, take a step back and look at what are you doing there. It makes no sense to me.
You are progressive in one way, but you are still making that fucking backward story about seven dwarves living in a cave… like what the fuck are you doing, man? Have I done nothing to advance the cause… from my soapbox? I guess I'm not loud enough.

I don't know its studio, but they were so proud of that! And all love and respect for the actress and to the people who though they were doing the right thing, but I'm just like… you know… what are you doing?
[...]
If you tell the story of Snow White, with the most fucked-up-cool-progressive spin on it, let's do it. All in. But I just don't know.
[...]
[The dwarf community] is such a minority. And I'm not affiliated with any group or anything, but it's such a minority that it causes a real… like… “who the fuck cares?”.

Marc Maron, author of the WTF podcast
Marc Maron, author of the podcast WTF
The words of Peter Dinklage, translated into Italian

It's very progressive to take on a… Absolutely no offense or anything, but I was a little struck by the fact that… They were very very proud to have hired a Latin actress like Snow White, but you're still telling the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Here, take a step back and see what you are doing here. It doesn't make sense to me.
You're progressive on the one hand, but you're still telling that fucking retrograde story about seven dwarves living in a cave… what the fuck are you doing? Didn't I do anything to bring the cause forward ... in my small way? I guess I'm not making enough noise.

I don't know what studio it is, but they were so proud! And just love and respect for the actress and for the people who thought they were doing the right thing, but I'm like… you know… what are you doing?
[...]
If you tell the story of Snow White, in its most bullshit-cool-progressive version, let's do it. Totally. But I do not know.
[...]
[The dwarf community] is such a minority. And I'm not affiliated with any group or anything, but it's so much a minority that it causes a real… like… "who the fuck cares?"

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Rachel Zegler, interpreter of Snow White in the new Disney movie, here in West Side Story
Rachel Zegler, interpreter of Snow White in the new Disney movie, here in West Side Story

What did Disney say?

Tuesday 25 January, the Disney he answered to Peter Dinklage as follows:

To avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film, we are taking a different approach with these seven characters and have been consulting with members of the dwarfism community. We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period.

To avoid reinforcing the stereotypes from the original animated film, we're taking a different approach with these seven characters. We consulted with members of the nana community. We can't wait to show you more as the film goes into production after a long development period.

Which Snow White movie are we talking about?

Since there have been several films focusing on the story of Snow White in recent years, it is worth saying a few words about the film that Peter Dinklage is referring to.
This is a live-action remake of snow-white Disney branded. The film is still in one very embryonic stage and practically nothing is known about the plot or most of the cast yet. We know the director will be Mark Webb (500 Days of Summer, Amazing Spider-Man) and that the evil queen will be Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman, Justice League). Furthermore, long ago the choice of the leading actress, that is, had caused a sensation Rachel zegler (West Side Story), which is Latin American.

Peter Dinklage with his wife Erica Schmidt
Peter Dinklage with his wife Erica Schmidt

Why is Peter Dinklage right?

In short, Peter Dinklage claimed that if Disney wants to be progressive, it cannot limit itself to being progressive only towards a single marginalized community, but should be committed to being so in the round..
And he is right. True progressivism does not consist in choosing from time to time which marginalized community one wishes to represent in a respectful way: respect must include everyone.

Disney's performative progressivism

Unfortunately, however, we know well that for multinationals like Disney progressivism is not a value, but another means of marketing.
That's why Disney often brags that they have incorporated progressive elements into their works, only to reveal that they are not that progressive at all.
In fact, they are usually extremely superficial. For example, the "strong woman" and who "does not need a boyfriend", presented as a super-feminist element, when she is nothing more than a version vanilla and a facade of the true feminist critique of narrative stereotypes about female characters.
Otherwise, we see progressive elements towards a certain marginalized community, placed alongside stereotyped elements towards another marginalized community, which in this case was therefore considered as “less important”.

And it is the latter case that Peter Dinklage is talking about. Disney continues to want to present itself (at least in the West) as a progressive, but often his is just one performative progressivism, done only to avoid criticism or to self-award the medal of "progressives".
Of course, it is better to have this kind of facade progressivism, rather than going back to the days when all marginalizing communities were simply invisible, or present in the cinema only as barbine stereotypes.

The importance of a correct representation of marginalized communities

At the same time, it is important to push for ever more accurate representations and a greater awareness of the power of representations in stories. Why don't you believe, but the way a marginalized group is portrayed in a story with a large audience like Disney's is not without consequences..
Even just the fact that certain people were never represented has a cultural impact on the way we perceive these people. For example, if no media posts transgender characters, and when they do they are just negative stereotypes, then it goes without saying that we will have a society where transgender people are always seen as something alien and negative.

Translate this thing with dwarf people. If all the dwarf people we see in the media are these stereotypical versions of the cute infantilized helper (because "low" means "baby"!), Then it goes without saying that we will have a society where dwarf people are infantilized and / or always treated as something strange or alien.
In that sense, you will understand that the character of Tyrion Lannister it was truly revolutionary. Tyrion is a non-magical dwarf man (i.e. he is a person with dwarfism, not a magical creature), who is influenced by his own genetic condition, but it doesn't just come down to his own dwarfism: he is a well-rounded person, with passions and interests, political ideas and plans, as well as an active and non-stereotyped sex life.

How said even Peter Dinklage himself several years ago, Tyrion is a dwarf type of character not stereotyped, who doesn't even have the stereotypical dwarf look (that is, the long beard, which had tormented him as much as Trumpkin).
Dinklage himself has refused for most of his career to play those roles where dwarves were most sought after, such as Santa's elves or Leprechauns.

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Peter Dinklage in different roles: Trask in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, Trumpkin in Prince Caspian
Peter Dinklage in different roles: Trask in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, Trumpkin ne Prince Caspian

The representation of the fantastic dwarves: when and why is it problematic?

Inserting dwarf characters into works is generally done in two ways: either it is humans with dwarfism, or is it about magical beings belonging to another species. The first case is that of Tyrion Lannister, the second that of the Dwarves of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Terry Brooks and many other fantasy authors and authors, as well as many fantasy role-playing games (D&D, Pathfinder, Warhammer, Dragon Age, Dungeon World, etc).
When we talk about stereotypes and discrimination related to the representation of dwarf people in the works, we are talking about two aspects: the stereotypes present in the narration of the story, and the choice of actors who play the dwarf characters.

Stereotypes about dwarves in fairy tales

On this matter one or more separate articles should be made, because it is a long, complex and substantially impossible question to expose properly here. Forgive, then, if this section is a bit hasty.

The fact that the fairy tales of European folklore carry with them elements din the culture of the time in which they were written (or crystallized, if you prefer) it is well known. As Dodger also explained, for example, Hansel e Gretel e Thumb they probably refer to the abandonment of children by poor families during famines. Still others refer to more or less universal narrative archetypes, such as the conflict with a parental figure perceived as other or oppressive, as in the case of snow-white.
In short, this is to say that fairy tales are not stories born of pure imaginative flair. In reverse, they arise from the reality of their time, and with it they carry certain social expectations and beliefs.

In this sense, fairy tales also bring with them a whole series of stereotypes, especially towards marginalized realities or categories of people. One of these is undoubtedly that of dwarf people.
In this sense, as he tells well Nanabianca, blogger and dwarf art historian, in our own Middle Ages and Renaissance dwarf people were generally seen as people who have suffered divine punishment, and then as jokes of nature halfway between man and animal. They are alien beings, other than humans, in short.
The fairy tale of snow-white, with the protagonist who runs away into the woods and meets the seven dwarfs, resumes in this sense the idea that dwarf people are not quite human beings, who live in the woods like animals, but in a house like humans.

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The Seven Dwarfs with CGI Imported Faces in Snow White and the Hunter
The Seven Dwarfs with CGI Imported Faces in Snow White and the hunter
Employment discrimination: who plays the dwarves in the cinema?

When a work in which there are dwarves or dwarf people is transposed to the cinema, in addition to the possible narrative stereotypes other problems also come into play: who plays these characters?

When the dwarves are not played by dwarf actors

In several works, such as ne The Lord of the Rings e The Hobbit directed by Peter Jackson, the Fantastic Dwarves are always played by actors without dwarfism, often with the help of special special effects and costumes that alter their proportions. The same thing also happened in another transposition of Snow White, that is Snow White and the hunter (2012), in which non-dwarf surroundings had interpreted the seven Dwarfs. In that case, the actors' faces had been digitally embedded on dwarf bodies.

The choice of Snow White and the hunter did not like it e there were strong protests by the dwarf community. At the time, in fact, the thing was compared to blackface and the Little People of America group clamored for dwarves to be chosen for roles apparently written for short people. The dwarf-only theater group Beacher's Madhouse also threatened to hold a protest march (the 100-midget march) in front of the Universal offices.

When dwarves are played by dwarves

In other works, however, the roles of fantastic little people have been given to dwarf actors. This was, for example, Willow's case with Warwick Davis in Willow, or of the seven dwarfs in snow-white (2012), or of the dwarfs in The Witcher, or Trumpkin with Peter Dinklage himself Prince Caspian.
In this sense, although it is sad to see dwarf actors and actresses always relegated to the role of "low fantastic and non-human being", these are still roles that employ these actors and actresses and at least offer a minimum of representation.

However, it would be essential that dwarf actors and actresses could make a career in cinema based on their ability, thus being able to cover roles that do not immediately have the label "dude / low / a". I would like to see Jeremy Crawford (Yarpen Zigrin in The Witcher) in an action movie where she can show off his stunt skills. I would like to see Warwick Davis in a movie without a facial prosthesis.
That's why Peter Dinklage is such a rare example: because he fills roles that are not just fantastic dwarves (Trumpkin) or dwarf characters (Tyrion Lannister), but also characters who don't have the "dwarf" label on them (Cyrano de Bergerac) .

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Peter Dinklage in Cyrano
Peter Dinklage in Cyrano

Nanosplaining and "dwarf shit": when non-dwarf people exaggerate

Among the negative reactions to Peter Dinklage's statements, there are two predominant types.
The first is what we might call nanosplaining: people (not dwarfs) who want to go and explain to Peter Dinklage (dwarf) what it is and what is not offensive to dwarf people. We are in a paradoxical situation, where people who are not in the shoes of a dwarf person want to explain to the latter how they should feel about the representation of dwarf people in the media.

This is tremendous behavior, extremely condescending towards dwarf people. But what do we others know, that we are not dwarfs, of what is or is not offensive to dwarf people? Shouldn't we listen to what they say?
It is worth saying clearly: it is not us non-dwarves who can decide what is offensive to dwarf people. Instead we should do another thing, very difficult unfortunately: keep quiet and listen to dwarf people when they talk. And even when they express their discomfort. And even when they express their discomfort towards works that we like. We have no right to tell them that they should not feel uncomfortable or find certain representations humiliating.

The second reaction is literally what Peter Dinklage was talking about: "Who the fuck cares?".
When we see people who yell because "this politically correct has broken" or because "that's enough, they are exaggerating with the do-gooders", here, they are literally saying "Fuckers of dwarf people". Because the important thing is that their Disney fairy tale remains as it is and, once again, “fuckers of the dignity of people who are not us”.
And sadly, what Dinklage says is very true: dwarf people are such a marginalized and invisible community that they are truly treated as the last wheel of the progressivism wagon. The comments on his words prove this.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs illustrated by Franz Jüttner in a 1905 edition
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs illustrated by Franz Jüttner in a 1905 edition

What if the seven dwarfs weren't there snow-white?

Yesterday it was spinning an article de The Monkey Thinks which had as its title Snow White, Disney: "We will avoid stereotypes, there will be no dwarves but magical creatures". Already a few hours after publication, the title had been changed to the current one Snow White, Disney responds to criticism: "We will avoid stereotypes".
I don't know where the author of the article, Matteo Furina, got the idea of ​​magical creatures (never mentioned by Disney), but the important thing is that he corrected himself. However, in some Facebook groups the news is shot with the original title, arousing the ire of users: how dare Disney replace the seven dwarfs?
EDIT: The news of the magical creatures was given by The Wrap in this article. In fact, according to their internal sources who would have seen the script of the Snow White film, there should be magical creatures, not the seven dwarfs. Voice that has not been confirmed by Disney and of which we have no proof.

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Well, apart from the fact that we don't know if Disney wants to replace the seven dwarfs or not, actually there are stories similar to that of Snow White in which there is the protagonist persecuted by the jealous stepmother, but without the seven dwarfs.
For example, in the Sicilian fairy tale Maria, the stepmother and the seven brigands, the protagonist lives with, in fact, seven brigands. Neither The cruel stepmother by Angelo de Gubernatis, on the other hand, the protagonist takes refuge from an elderly woman to escape her stepmother. Instead, in the collection Sicilian fairy tales, short stories and folk tales by Giuseppe Pitre there is a version in which the protagonist runs away from her stepmother to take refuge from the fairies. In a Flemish version of the story, the protagonist must escape her biological mother, finding refuge among seventeen thieves.

In short, if this new live action on snow-white decides not to include the seven dwarfs, surely he could find several other sources of inspiration from which to take inspiration. Because fairy tales like snow-white they are not stories written in stone, rather! They exist in many versions and are part of many folklores.
That's why not, changing history is not a problem: it has been done a thousand times in the past. And no, there's not just the Disney version. Let's try to put it in our heads.

A misleading (but later correct) title which, however, was followed by excessive calls to arms
A misleading (but later correct) title which, however, was followed by excessive calls to arms

TL; DR: Peter Dinklage is right and the rest of us should shut up and listen to him

Peter Dinklage said a great truth: for multinationals like Disney, progressivism is a commercial product. For this reason, it is okay for them to pursue it only if they can profit from it. That is why they are willing to be progressives towards certain marginalized communities (in this case the Latin American one), ignoring the others instead (like the community of dwarf people).
However, this is not acceptable behavior. And it is sad to see that, for still so many individuals, dwarf people are such an invisible community that their dignity is completely ignored.

Disney responded to the actor by assuring that they took steps to avoid stereotypical visions of the seven dwarfs in the new live action on Snow White. No one has ever talked about obliterating the seven dwarves. But, even if it were, that wouldn't be a big deal, as that fairy tale exists in dozens of different versions, many of them without the seven dwarfs.
However, non-dwarf people shouldn't allow themselves to go and tell a dwarf person what he is and what is not offensive to him. On the contrary, he should be silent and listen. Because if he doesn't, he only confirms Dinklage's own words: he doesn't give a damn about dwarf people.