A few years ago, Rachel Zegler was an aspiring singer and actress who dreamed of making it big in the entertainment industry.
Now, the 20-year-old performer is about to be a household name with an enviable slate of films accruing on her resume.
In December 2021, Zegler will make her big-screen debut Steven Spielberg’s 2021 adaptation of West Side Story, playing Maria whose tragic love story with Tony (Ansel Elgort) echoes that of Romeo and Juliet’s.
At the time of her casting in the adaptation, Zegler was a 17-year-old high school student from New Jersey. Responding to an open casting call posted by Spielberg on social media, Zegler submitted clips of herself singing Tonight and I Feel Pretty from the musical’s soundtrack and was eventually chosen for the role out of 30,000 people.
Prior to that, Zegler went viral in 2018 after posting a video of herself singing Shallow from A Star Is Born on Twitter — a clip that has since been viewed over 11 million times.
someone: you use autotune😤😤😤😤
— rachel zegler (she/her/hers) (@rachelzegler) December 14, 2018
Now, Zegler has been announced to step into a role that most young woman can only dream of — that of Snow White in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of the beloved classic.
Taking to her Twitter account once more, Zegler excitedly wrote, “I HAVE MANIFESTED MY ENTIRE LIFE I THINK I THINK.”
I HAVE MANIFESTED MY ENTIRE LIFE I THINK I THINK
— rachel zegler (she/her/hers) (@rachelzegler) June 22, 2021
The New Jersey native’s casting is not only significant for her but comes at a crucial time in the conversation for Latinx representation onscreen, which has seen some strides with films such as Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, although even that was criticised for not extending lead roles to Afro Latinx performers.
Zegler, who is Colombian and Polish, being cast a Disney Princess will no doubt be a beacon for young, non-white women who have seen too little of themselves represented in the stories they consume.
Speaking of Zegler’s casting, the film’s director Marc Webb said, “Rachel’s extraordinary vocal abilities are just the beginning of her gifts. Her strength, intelligence and optimism will become an integral part of rediscovering the joy in this classic Disney fairytale.”
The live-action film has been in development at Disney since 2016, as the studio looked to bring new life to the 1937 Brothers Grimm fairytale. The story of the fair princess whose jealous and wicked stepmother poisons her with an apple has seen a few iterations over the years — including 2012’s Mirror Mirror with Julia Roberts and Lily Collins, and the darker Snow White and the Huntsman starring Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart.
The original fairytale has received some criticism in recent years for promoting anti-feminist themes (Snow White’s stepmother is so jealous of her looks she poisons her) and the somewhat problematic fact that the Prince kisses Snow White while she is asleep and, therefore, cannot give consent. It has not yet been revealed how Disney intends to address these themes for a socially conscious, modern audience.
The studio is also working on live-action remakes of The Little Mermaid, with Halle Bailey set to play Ariel, Pinocchio starring Tom Hanks, and Lilo and Stitch to be directed by filmmaker Jon M. Chu, along with a prequel to 2019’s remake of The Lion King which was directed by Jon Favreau.
In addition to her roles in West Side Story and Snow White — the latter of which is expected to begin production in 2022 — Zegler has also been cast in an undisclosed role in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which is expected to premiere on June 2, 2023.