You are on page 1of 5


Sophia Brockman

Brenda Mckenna

Writing 2010

29January 2017

Snow White in racist, sexist 1930s America

The 1937 Disney animated classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs brought to life the

classic Grimm fairy tale with lively characters and captivating music. The story is of a young girl

named Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) with beauty beyond compare, especially to her evil

stepmother ( Lucille La Verne). The evil queen/stepmother, overwhelmed with jealousy of her

stepdaughter's beauty plans her death by sending a Huntsman (Stuart Buchanan) off to kill her,

but when he confronts the girl collecting flowers he has second thoughts and runs her off into the

forest. Her cute animal friends then lead her to a small cottage where she meets and befriends

seven dwarfs with an array of personalities. She is later poisoned by her stepmother who is

magically disguised as an old woman selling apples, and is put under a spell that can only be

broken with a kiss from the handsome prince (Harry Stockwell) . Though this film does contain

captivating songs and scenery, this can distract the audience from the underlying problematic

themes from the time this film was composed. Using characterization, dialogue and, visual

design, this film falls short of any signs of progressive ideals of the modern woman. These

problematic subjects are even overlooked by professionals like Frank Nugent, a film reviewer

who, like any other child or adult is enthralled with the nostalgic technologically advanced

animation and the lively music of this Disney film.


Characterization is one element that is extremely prominent throughout this entire film.

Beginning with Snow White a young girl whose gender defines how she acts and what she is

supposed to do and think. Because Snow White is a woman her character is supposed to be

tolerant of the behavior of the seven dwarfs and her role is to take care of them. In addition to

that her ditsy personality reveals the way that women were looked at during the time of this film,

that woman arent intelligent and are only capable of cooking, cleaning, and storytelling. Another

element of her characterization is her high pitched voice that represents femininity, which

depicts a sort of damsel in distress quality to the character Snow White. This over exaggerated

quality is a clear choice by directors of this film and shows the lack of progressive ideas about

independent strong women during this time in history.

Aside from Snow White one of the most prominent examples of characterization in this

film is portrayed through the many personalities of the seven dwarfs. Each dwarf has its own set

of traits that is anything but hidden by their names that they introduce themselves with; Doc

(Roy Atwell), Grumpy (Pinto Colvig) , Happy (Otis Harlan), Sleepy (Pinto Colvig), Dopey

(Eddie Collins) , Bashful (Scotty Mattraw), and Sneezy (Billy Gilbert). Each Dwarf has

corresponding physical attributes that match their names and a personality that reflects it as well.

One of the best examples is the Dwarf named Grumpy, his physical attributes like his furrowed

brows that are thicker and darker than any of the other dwarfs, and personality like his negative

dialogue and attitude toward the other dwarfs, display the clear correlation between their names

and their character. This is an example of characterization that is very obvious, but there are

some that are little less clear.

One that you wouldnt think of in a children's film are the gender roles that appear

throughout this entire film. Starting with, Snow White entering the home of the dwarfs, she

immediately sees the mess and fulfills her womanly duty by cleaning their home and cooking

them dinner. Which leads to the male gender roles in this film, the dwarfs are all men with the

idea of the traditional man's man ideals and attitudes. The dwarfs home, when Snow White

finds it, is a complete disaster, covered in cobwebs and dust. This is a clear representation of a

role that men are supposed to be dirty and unclean, who are too busy with man's work to clean

and cook. All of these show the wide variety of characterization in the film Snow White and the

Seven Dwarfs.

Visual Design

This film is uses revolutionary color animation for its time but this can also be a fault that

pronounces the problematic themes it portrays. Starting with the character Snow White, her

physical attributes reveal the racist ideals of 1930s America. Snow White is said to be The

fairest of them all by the magic mirror, and apart of what defines her beauty is her fair skin.

This tells young kids that the beauty standard to be lusted after is dark hair and light skin which

one, represents racism, and two tells girls that there is only one way to look to be beautiful.

Along with her skin and hair color the character is drawn with a thin body type which gives the

wrong beauty standards to audiences and indicates that you can only be beautiful if you are thin

with light skin and dark hair. Though this film is visually, fun, colorful and, detailed, The

physical attributes of Snow White create unrealistic beauty standards for girls.


The dialogue of this film yet simple and easy to understand reveals some very

problematic themes along with its characterization and visual design. This film blatantly

expresses an attitude toward women with a quote by Grumpy, ANGEL, HAH ! SHE'S A


is no hiding that women were considered intolerable and unwanted through these clear words

spoken by grumpy. Another line of dialogue that stood out was during story time when Snow

White tells the dwarfs a story about herself she says, and she fell in love sneezy asks, was it

hard to do?, Snow White replies, Oh, it was very easy. Anyone could see that the prince was

charming. The only one for me. This piece of dialogue shows the idea of a relationship between

a man and a woman of that time. Women were supposed to just look at a man and be swooned by

his handsomeness and just fall in love with that person. This creates unrealistic relationship

ideals for kids, That all you have to do is look and a person, kiss, and you are in love. This

dialogue reflects these roles of relationships ideals from fairy tales, which can be damaging to

the viewpoint of a child from a young age.


For people like Frank Nugent Snow White is, Sheer fantasy, delightful, gay, and

altogether captivating, which would be said people who are clearly not getting the underlying

messages that this film portrays. In his 1938 review of the movie Snow White and the Seven

Dwarfs, Frank Nugent provides a boring, run of the mill film review that never really delves into

the messages or any deep mean the film could be portraying, but skims the surface and leaves the

rest for history to decide. Nugents sheer naive views on Snow White put him, a grown man, on

the board with all kids captivated by the song and dance of this film. Trying to learn anything

truly meaningful about this film other than how cute the animals where and how great the

animation was, from this review would be like trying to find an excuse for not doing your

homework, a bit of a stretch.

Movie Review

Though this film, was revolutionary for animation during its time, and contains appealing

visuals and lively music, it falls short of teaching any child a positive lesson that they can reflect

on in their future. Problematic themes set this film back to a past of socially acceptable racism

and sexism which is very clear watching as an adult. Disney does a wonderful job at distracting

its audience with cute animated animals and characters, and catchy songs that you find yourself

singing for days after. From subliminal undertones that portray an unrealistic woman, to attitudes

and actions that create beauty standards and body images, and an idea that men cant clean and

cook because they are too busy working and that cooking and cleaning are women's jobs . The

only redeeming factors of this feature is its nostalgia from childhood, the cute and doe eyed

animals, and the somewhat catchy somewhat annoying songs and music. Sexist and racist themes

hidden by cutesy forest animals and seven tiny men with personality plus doesnt sound good on

paper, but when covered up with a title like, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs youve got a

groundbreaking animated film.