Skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as night. Everyone knows those popular words and know who they relate to – the kind figure of Snow White, a fairytale character who has become an iconic symbol in pop culture. In this series, we’re going to be looking into popular characters and tropes in pop culture and their impact on it.
The Brothers Grimm were the original creators of the Snow White fairytale which they published in 1812 as Tale 53, Sneewittchen. The tale was rewritten several times until the final revision was published in 1854. The iconic symbols that come from the story have been used throughout fantasy films and other stories ever since – the poisoned apple, the magic mirror, the glass coffin, an Evil Queen and of course, the dwarves.
The inspiration for the tale has been debated by scholars throughout history but the most likely is the true story of Margaretha von Waldeck, the daughter of Philip IV in 1533. When Margaretha was just sixteen years old, she was forced to move to Brussels by her stepmother, Katharina of Hatzfeld. Guess who she was the inspiration of? It worked in Margaretha’s favour, however, as she fell in love with her Prince Charming, Prince Philip II of Spain. But her parents didn’t approve of the relationship for political reasons and soon after, Margaretha died in mysterious circumstances. It was revealed during post mortem that she was poisoned – contrary to the poetic license that the Grimm Brothers took, it was likely that it was the King of Spain who conspired to murder her, not the stepmother. But it could be that they colluded together.
The most famous adaptation of Snow White’s fairytale is Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but it wasn’t the first time that it was brought to life on screen. In 1916, J. Searle Dawley directed Snow White which was a silent romantic fantasy. It starred Marguerite Clark as the titular character – she previously played Snow White on the stage – and Creighton Hale as the Prince. The film was believed to be lost to a fire but was restored in 1992. Before the fire, however, there was one particular member of the audience who was inspired by it – Walt Disney.
At just fifteen years old, he was drawn in by the story of Snow White. In 1937, he made history by developing the first full length feature animated production in Disney history. There had been other animated features but Snow White has been renowned for changing animation forever. In glorious technicolour, the film was a triumph and still stands strong to this day for the acclaimed project it is.
However, to a modern audience, many find it difficult to relate to the lead character as they believe her to be rather two-dimensional and not the feminist icon that many look for today. But I would like to make a case for Snow White as I feel she receives an unreasonable amount of backlash in comparison to the other Disney Princesses that we have in the vault. The first thing to acknowledge is the time in which this was released – even though it isn’t right, it was at a time when women weren’t largely though of as much more than housewives. So the fact that Snow White spends most of her time playing house in the run of the film makes sense. This is pre-land-girl times, too, so ‘strong’ women weren’t the run of the mill in the media. Does it make it right? No. Does it reflect the times it was made in? Absolutely. Does it make the film suffer? Absolutely not.
I’ve discussed this previously in my Femininity Vs. Forced Feminism article on Wonder Woman but I can’t be the only person who is tired of seeing forced feminism where a woman is reduced to nothing more than ‘strong’ qualities – which almost always mean that she’s emotionally cold but can kick your ass while looking good doing it. One of Snow’s qualities is her kindness; the animals flock to her, she even turns the misogynistic Grumpy from muttering ‘women’ to crying at her coffin. Many claim this is purely because of her beauty as the dwarfs stopped their attack on her once they saw how beautiful she was – I don’t think the dwarfs would have killed any woman, they were expecting an intruder.
To counter this feminist criticism, director Rupert Sanders offered Snow White and the Huntsman where Snow White fights back against the Evil Queen, Ravenna. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love this film despite how widely hated it is but I feel it kind of misses the point of Snow White which is that her courage is in her kindness. She doesn’t need armour and a sword to be strong. But I do like the new take that it offers on the tale – what is the true meaning of beauty? It’s hinted at in the original tale but emphasised in this adaptation. Charlize Theron plays the Evil Queen and while she doesn’t just have it in her mind to kill Snow White, she’s willing to kill everyone and anyone so long as it means that she can maintain her beauty. But when it’s revealed that she’s doing it out of revenge for her mother, it gives her more motive other than ‘I want to be the fairest of the them all’. For Snow, all she wants is to be free from the abusive life that her stepmother has put her under. I really do recommend watching this without hate-goggles on because the cinematography is beautiful, the acting is really strong from both Kristen Stewart and Theron and it adds a new spin onto the beloved tale.
Disney has plans to adapt Snow White again twice; the first in Red Rose which is going to be the story of Snow White’s sister and the second, a live action adaptation of the original which is to be directed by Marc Webb. What they do with the characters will be interesting to see – whether they do alter the criticisms of the original or stick to their guns with some minor tweaks.
Has Snow White had an impact on your life in some way? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow for more film analyses.