Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

“With a Smile and a Song”

Representations of People with Dwarfism in 1930s Cinema

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2020), 14, (2), 137–154.


During the 1930s, Hollywood produced more than 7,500 feature films, many of which reflected normative middle-class values and reinforced gendered, raced, and classed stereotypes (Jewell 48). Following Lennard J. Davis’s assertion that disability studies provides the “broadest way of understanding contemporary systems of oppression,” the article examines Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) to reveal the ways in which these examples of classic Hollywood cinema framed people with dwarfism in relation to ideas of normalcy and anomaly (Bending over Backwards, 29). These blockbuster films continue to capture the popular imagination, making their close study a particularly fruitful response to Betty M. Adelson’s provocation, “Can a class of individuals that was once considered among the most prominent of freaks be ‘defreaked?’” (1).

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Author details

Watson, Keri