Peter Dinklage Said the Seven Dwarfs Are an Insult, but the Reality Is More Complex

Some actors in the little people community are not thrilled to have the Emmy-winning actor serve as their spokesperson.
EXCLUSIVE - Peter Dinklage at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Jamison/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images)
Peter Dinklage at the 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards
Eric Jamison/Invision/AP

Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage has made a point of refusing to take stereotypical roles commonly reserved for little people (LP), but he’s never been one to address the challenges that he and other LP actors face in Hollywood. That changed during an interview on Marc Maron’s January 24 “WTF” podcast. During a conversation regarding Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Dinklage praised Disney for casting a Latina actress as Snow White but condemned them for continuing to present what he believed were outdated stereotypes.

“Literally no offense to anything, but I was sort of taken aback,” he said. “They were very proud to cast a Latino actress as Snow White, but you’re still telling the story of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ Take a step back and look at what you’re doing there. It makes no sense to me. You’re progressive in one way, but you’re still making that fucking backward story about seven dwarfs living in a cave together. Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soapbox? I guess I’m not loud enough.”

The day of the the interview’s publication, Disney stated that it wanted to consult with members of the dwarfism community on the film. A day later, the studio changed tactics: It would change the dwarf characters to “magical creatures” created with CGI. And that’s where the real trouble began.

If you’re a member of the LP community, or the disability community in general, you’ve seen this story before: the media frenzy, followed by backpedaling, followed by the eventual erasure of disability altogether. When Universal released the 2012 feature “Snow White and the Huntsmen,” the film drew ire for casting actors of regular height and using CGI to shrink them.

Even when a production did cast LPs — as they did with another 2012 Snow White tale, “Mirror Mirror” starring Julia Roberts — the dwarfism community continued to question why this narrative seemed to be the only one that their casting could represent.

Dinklage weighing in is something new. In fact, it’s so unusual that one disabled actor, who spoke to IndieWire on condition of anonymity, said they believed Dinklage was speaking in jest.

“[Dinklage] was like, ‘I spent my time on the soapbox’ and he really actually hasn’t,” the actor said. “He’s kind of been a genius at averting the topic. I could name a dozen little people who have talked more about this topic than Peter.”

Dinklage is one of the most prominent faces for disability representation and for the LP community in particular, but some LPs are less than excited to have him take up the charge.

“Little Women: LA” star and producer Terra Jolé said that while she appreciates Dinklage speaking out, his power and privilege also create adverse effects. Jolé said that many little people in the entertainment industry don’t necessarily agree with Dinklage’s take; people in her family auditioned for the Disney film. With his condemnation, she said, Disney made Dinklage the sole arbiter on the topic.

“It boggles my mind that a network, instead of listening to an entire community, [is] listening to one person,” she said. “That’s just how much pull this one person has created in this society because of where he is on the level of popularity.”

Peter Dinklage
Peter Dinklage in “Game of Thrones”HBO

Another member of the LP community, journalist and documentarian Cara Reedy, was even blunter in her assessment. “He’s no dwarf hero,” she said. “He does not talk about it. He’s talked about it twice. He pretends like it doesn’t exist. But he has not assisted [the LP community].” (Reps for Dinklage did not respond to requests for comment.)

“It’s appropriate that Peter spoke his truth about how he feels, but I don’t feel that it’s appropriate that he is including the entire dwarfism community,” Reedy said.

IndieWire reached out to multiple members of the LP acting community for this article. Jolé puts down their reluctance to comment down to fear of reprisal; the anonymous actor said no one wants to risk irritating a studio that controls 52 percent of the media — especially one that regularly hires little people for “Star Wars” films and shows. An upcoming Disney+ series even has an LP in a starring role, with Warwick Davis as farmer Willow Ufgood in “Willow.”

The unnamed actor said it’s not necessarily that people from the disabled and LP communities don’t want to talk, but they’re more interested in doing work to upend the stereotype. “[“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”], because it’s in production and by the biggest studio in the world that many people would like to work for, [has actors] walking a bit of a fine line.”

Added Jolé, “And the cancel culture is so huge right now that everyone is so scared to speak the truth because they don’t want it to affect their job.”

Other recent casting of LPs in film and television include Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” and OWN series “The Kings of Napa.” However, Jolé said there’s a severe downturn in roles being offered to under the guise of subverting stereotypes.

“Five years ago, there were constant commercial auditions,” she said. “Because of equality, and voices stating that they weren’t okay with things like elf roles, or dwarf roles, or leprechaun roles, they’ve been eliminated. And not only are you not seeing a lot of little people in in the acting industry anymore, but you’re not seeing productions being created to give little people an actual role, either.”

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, from left: Dopey (voice: Eddie Collins) , Sneezy (voice: Billy Gilbert), Bashful (voice: Scotty Mattraw), Sleepy (voice: Pinto Colvig), Happy (voice: Otis Harlan), Grumpy (Pinto Colvig), Doc (voice: Roy Atwell), 1937. ©Walt Disney Co. / Courtesy Everett Collection
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, from left: Dopey (voice: Eddie Collins) , Sneezy (voice: Billy Gilbert), Bashful (voice: Scotty Mattraw), Sleepy (voice: Pinto Colvig), Happy (voice: Otis Harlan), Grumpy (Pinto Colvig), Doc (voice: Roy Atwell), 1937.©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

Some members of the LP community accept the more stereotypical acting opportunities. Others, like Reedy, believe roles like these perpetuates a system that prefers to cast LPs as leprechauns and elves.

According to Little People of America, about 30,000 people in the United States have some form of dwarfism; the number grows to 651,700 worldwide. Odds are, many people don’t interact with LPs in their lives and that leaves on-camera portrayals to foster awareness about dwarfism.

“This has real-world effects — people harass, people are violated,” said Reedy, who’s been forced to deal with strangers asking “which one [of the Seven Dwarfs]” she is. “There’s violence perpetrated against us every day. And part of that comes from these representations.”

For Jolé, if individual performers don’t want to audition for a stereotypical role, they shouldn’t. If they don’t like a project, then don’t support it. Beyond that? “I’m not saying mind your business, but … don’t [speak out] about it.”

As with other issues of representation in Hollywood, the real answer to this issue goes beyond casting; it comes down to hiring LPs to write, produce, and direct. Those occurrences remain very rare, although Dinklage does have a number of producing credits including “Brothers,” now in production starring Dinklage opposite Brendan Fraser, Josh Brolin, and Glenn Close.

And, back in 2017, Dinklage was attached as the producer and star of an adaptation by the Nobel Prize-winning Swedish author Pär Lagerkvist. Title? “The Dwarf.”

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