Rachel Zegler

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‘I don’t know why everybody hates me for saying it’: Why Rachel Zegler is so controversial amid the Hollywood strikes

Toxic Disney fandom and anti-strike sentiments have inspired a massive backlash against 'Snow White' star Rachel Zegler.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 7, 2023   Updated on Aug 7, 2023, 12:21 pm CDT

Rachel Zegler has quickly become one of the most hated actors on the Hollywood picket lines. Not due to any fault of her own, but thanks to a toxic crossover between anti-strike sentiments and misogynistic attitudes toward Disney Princess branding.

Known for her lead roles in West Side Story, Disney’s Snow White remake and the upcoming Hunger Games prequel, Zegler vocally supports SAG-AFTRA’s campaign for fair pay. During a picket line interview last week she said, “If I’m gonna stand there 18 hours a day in the dress of an iconic Disney princess, I deserve to be paid for every hour that it’s streamed online.”

This soundbite focuses on a key issue for Hollywood strikers: The fact that streamers like Netflix and Disney+ offer insultingly low residual payments compared to traditional TV. Zegler is also making use of her platform as the face of a lucrative Disney brand.

Numerous actors have made similar statements on this topic. However conservative commentators quickly struck back against Zegler, labeling her greedy and entitled. Zegler tweeted in response, “fellas is it woke to wanna be fairly compensated.”

Why Rachel Zegler is a divisive SAG-AFTRA spokesperson

Over the next few days, this controversy snowballed. Detractors argued that Zegler was an inappropriate spokesperson because she’s wealthy and successful. Her comment about spending “18 hours in a dress” sounded lightweight compared to more serious tales of financial hardship.

@blackteanews #sag #sagstrike2023 #rachelzegler #disney #disneyplus #snowwhite #actorsstrike2023 #writersstrike ♬ original sound – Black Tea News

One TikTok with 2.6 million views derisively compared Zegler to actors who “risk their lives” doing dangerous stunts. This conservative TikToker argued that Zegler shouldn’t try to elicit sympathy from working-class people when her job involves “doing luxurious things like being in a princess dress.”

However this TikTok concludes on an interesting note, effectively defending Disney. Claiming that “Disney+ isn’t making money either,” she accuses Zegler of “ragging on the original story” of Snow White. She believes Zegler is disrespecting Snow White’s legacy.

This complaint reflects a common sentiment among Zegler haters in Disney fandom, criticizing her supposedly negative attitude toward Snow White.

The Disney fandom backlash against the live-action Snow White

Zegler’s casting sparked a predictable racist backlash back in 2021. Since then, those criticisms have expanded to include Disney fans who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves racist or conservative. Basically, a ton of people think Zegler is ungrateful or disrespectful toward the role.

Oddly enough, Disney’s marketing strategy for Snow White is directly fueling this backash.

Like with The Little Mermaid and other Disney princess remakes, Disney is promoting the live-action Snow White as a feminist update. This involves castmembers making generic statements about the new Snow White being a strong, independent woman. But a lot of fans believe Zegler has gone too far and just sounds like she hates the 1937 original:

@itzrylannnn #stitch with @Jianna Ewuresi this abt to be a flop #rachelzeglersnowwhite #rachelzegleredit #Annoying #snowwhite2023 #Remake #Reboot #Disney #Drama #dramatiktok #popculture #popculturenews #Singer ♬ original sound – ✨Rylan✨

It seems like an outsized level of backlash considering the relative banality of Zegler’s actual statements.

True, Zegler earns more than the vast majority of film industry workers. But SAG-AFTRA is intentionally using famous actors as spokespeople for the strike. It’s a smart way to gain public attention, and Zegler isn’t the richest or most famous example.

As for the “18 hours in a dress” line, while it does conjure a kind of poor-little-rich-girl imagery, it doesn’t make Zegler an ungrateful brat. It’s a one-liner drawing attention to Disney’s lack of residual payments. Elsewhere, Zegler has spoken in more depth about economic issues in the industry – and highlighted her own privilege compared to lower-paid crewmembers:

rachel zegler crew strikes
Rachel Zegler/X

Responding to a negative comment on YouTube, Zegler explained how her remarks about Disney residuals play into SAG-AFTRA’s wider campaign for fair pay.

“my point is: hard work is getting done,” she wrote. “hard work is being seen. the people who are doing the hard work deserve to be compensated for the work that is being done as well as the amount of times it is being viewed.”

“it is not a hard concept to grasp,” she added. “i don’t know why everybody hates me for saying it.”

Rather than being a backlash against truly problematic behavior, it’s clear what’s really happening here. Rachel Zegler embodies three subcategories of celebrity that people love to hate. She is an outspoken, non-deferential young woman. She is a Latina actress playing a previously-white character. And she is openly critical toward Disney, a corporation whose fans display a religious level of defensive loyalty.

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*First Published: Aug 7, 2023, 11:55 am CDT