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Tim Grierson on Hollywood’s Snow White Problem

Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman

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In an era of reboots and prequels, Hollywood can’t just cart out its musty old franchises — they have to reinvent them. For instance, James Bond is no longer a swingin’ playboy bedding babes and delivering tart one-liners — now, he’s a brooding, grizzled killing machine haunted by the loss of his true love. So it wasn’t that surprising when not one but two studios decided to dust off Snow White for the modern age.

Made popular by the Disney film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which hit U.S. theaters in 1938, the Snow White character began life as a folktale approximately 200 years ago. This year’s two Snow White films, “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” aggressively try to reimagine one of the most famous heroines in fiction and, in the process, show us how we as a society still have a tough time dealing with assertive female main characters.

On one hand, this is a time in which we see more female leads in event movies than in the past. There’s Bella from “Twilight,” Katniss from “The Hunger Games,” Zoe Saldana in “Colombiana,” and Amanda Seyfried in “Red Riding Hood.” Plus, this summer’s “Brave” will be the first Pixar film to feature a female main character. And don’t forget the “Underworld” and “Resident Evil” series. But the two Snow White movies are particularly interesting because they grapple with a character who, as she’s envisioned in the Disney film, is a rather passive person. Yes, Snow White is beautiful and kindhearted — she’s always singing some song — but she’s not a very proactive or compelling individual. In truth, she represents exactly the sort of negative female stereotype that modern women don’t enjoy seeing: She’s pretty but meek, waiting for some Prince Charming to come rescue her. Naturally, “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” want to bring her into the 21st century. But I’m not sure their revamped versions of Ms. White are any less irksome.

In “Mirror Mirror,” the Snow White story is treated with a sort of cheeky, snarky irreverence. Rather than unabashed sweetness, like in the Disney movie, the film (which stars Lily Collins as Snow White) is sarcastic, constantly elbowing us in the ribs to make sure that we know it’s sending up the familiar tale. Ironically, “Mirror Mirror” wants to mock the banality of fairy tales while at the same time being a fairy tale itself. (Love does conquer all in this film, and there’s a happy ending.) But as part of its attempt to revamp White’s story, the movie wants her to develop a little spine. And so we have Collins playing a cutie-pie princess who’s schooled on weapons thanks to her dwarf friends. But more importantly, she’s got some spunk to her now, a self-conscious response to the Disney version’s blissful blandness. If “Mirror Mirror” wants to show young women that they don’t have to grow up to be dainty princesses, then instead it seems like they’re just stuck being sassy. Not that the movie really cares about Snow White that much — the evil queen (played by Julia Roberts) gets the best lines and is way more fun. Of course, she’s also the villain: a bitchy, petty, vain, aging woman who’s supposed to be a hoot because she’s totally mean. In other words, the movie argues that being a proactive, weapon-wielding princess will land you Prince Charming, but the audience will always love you more if you’re simply evil.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” ups the ante by making Snow White not just resourceful but something of a warrior princess. Played by “Twilight’s” Kristen Stewart, Snow White has none of the gentility of the Disney film — barricaded in a tower and waiting to be killed by the evil queen (Charlize Theron), she has to fight for her life to escape, and the rest of the film is a further desperate battle to stay alive. There’s nothing demure about this Snow White or idyllic about her world. The film feels like a knee-jerk attempt to recapture the grimness of the original Brothers Grimm folk tale, but what this mostly translates into is a monotonously joyless film in which Snow White must eventually don a suit of armor and lead men into battle. If the Snow White of “Mirror Mirror” is a hip, cutesy young lady, then the one in “Snow White and the Huntsman” is an unsmiling pseudo-man who has to practically give up her femininity to be a generic action hero. What choices.

Of course, it’s dangerous to look to movies for role models — and it’s ridiculous to assume that young women are so impressionable that they’ll blindly accept portrayals of female characters as guides to living. But for all the criticism that so-called “princess culture” receives, I’m not sure if the responses to the phenomenon in “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” are appreciably better. Sure, these Snow Whites aren’t helpless lasses, but they’re not smart or interesting either. Essentially, they have to become men, taking up arms to prove they’re valuable members of society. Perhaps it’s better than watching movies where the female characters are just wives or girlfriends of the hero. But it would be nice if the fairest of them all could have a few more options other than just being eye candy or an ass-kicker.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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