Moviegoers who watched the 2003 indie film “The Station Agent” met main character Finbar McBride while he was working at a model train store in Hoboken, N.J. After discovering the shopkeeper stood around 4-foot-5, some customers cracked jokes.
Another shopper asked, “Hey, where’s Snow White?”
This week, actor Peter Dinklage, who played McBride, once again found himself grappling with Snow White vis-a-vis dwarfism. On Monday’s episode of the podcast “WTF with Marc Maron,” Dinklage reacted to Disney creating a live-action remake of its first animated feature film, 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” In June, the company announced the role of Snow White was going to Rachel Zegler, who played María in Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” released last month.
Dinklage, 52, told Maron he was surprised by what he saw as a contradiction.
“They were very, very proud to cast a Latino actress as Snow White, but you’re still telling the story of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’ ” Dinklage said, adding, “You’re progressive in one way … but you’re still making that … backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave. What … are you doing, man?”
On Tuesday, Disney responded, saying it will aim to present the characters in a sensitive manner.
“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,” a Disney spokesperson told Variety in a statement. “We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period.”
Dinklage has used his platform to fight Hollywood depictions of dwarfs as leprechauns or elves, and he’s pushed back against society’s tendency to highlight “the cutesiness of little people.”
That fight started off personal. In 2012, Dinklage told the New York Times Magazine about his struggle to make it as an actor in New York, a classic tale featuring an apartment with no heat that shook when the trains went by, an oven rendered unusable by the rats teeming inside and a landlord who pulled a knife when Dinklage and his roommate complained about those problems.
But Dinklage also faced unique challenges as an early-career actor. Much of the work that came his way was playing leprechauns, Santa’s elves and other kinds of elves, all roles he refused.
Dwarfs “are still the butt of jokes. It’s one of the last bastions of acceptable prejudice,” he told the magazine, before chiding those who do accept such roles.
“You can say no,” he said. “You can not be the object of ridicule.”
Dinklage’s career eventually took off, and his turn as the terse, brooding lead in “The Station Agent” was a big part of that. Then came eight seasons of playing sardonic, sharp-tongued Tyrion Lannister, the closest thing “Game of Thrones” had to a hero, a role that brought him a Golden Globe and Emmys.
When the Times Magazine asked Dinklage in 2012 whether he wanted to be a champion for the rights of dwarfs, he made a sound of seeming exasperation, then held out his hands, palms up.
“I don’t know what I would say. It would be arrogant to assume that I …” He put his hands down on the table, according to the magazine. “Everyone’s different. Every person my size has a different life, a different history. Different ways of dealing with it. Just because I’m seemingly O.K. with it, I can’t preach how to be O.K. with it. I don’t think I still am O.K. with it. There’s days when I’m not.”
Almost a decade later, Dinklage seems to have accepted the role of advocate, at least to some extent. On Maron’s podcast, he questioned whether he had pushed hard enough, given that Disney was remaking what he called a “backward” movie that plays into harmful stereotypes about dwarfs by depicting them as one-dimensional cliches instead of full-fledged human beings.
“Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soap box?” he asked. “I guess I’m not loud enough.”
Within a day, Disney responded with its statement about “taking a different approach.”