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The Internet’s Mistreatment of Rachel Zegler and Why Everyone Owes Her an Apology

Welcome to the Internet, where everything is either absolutely terrifying or pretty cool- there doesn’t seem to be an in-between. Discourses go flying about left and right, performative activism is almost everywhere you look, and unwarranted hate is rampant. Personally, I tend to stay in the corner that’s about cats and dogs. Within the past few years, someone who seems to have been caught in the crossfires of the constant battleground of the internet is Rachel Zegler. In case you’re unaware, Rachel Zegler is an insanely talented 22-year-old actress, singer, and musician. She was first known for her vlogs and cover song videos on YouTube, one of which went viral in 2018 (Shallow by Lady Gaga), before being cast in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story at the age of 17. Her success has only skyrocketed as the years have continued, but sadly, that has given way to more people taking jabs at her. Let’s build a timeline to see how exactly this all came about.


Rachel Zegler has just been announced as the lead in the new West Side Story film by Steven Spielberg, playing the leading role of Maria. She was only a senior in high school when she got this news, even asking Spielberg if she could perform in her school musical, Shrek, before leaving to begin shooting (his response is, “I produced the original Shrek, of course, you can!”). As a Colombian-American, Rachel voiced her excitement for being able to “play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.” Now, here’s where people began to take issue. In West Side Story, Maria is originally from Puerto Rico, like the rest of the Sharks. Since Rachel Zegler is not Puerto Rican, people began to target her, claiming she was miscast, starting multiple Twitter threads about why it’s a disservice to the character. While I can certainly see why people may have been upset, the hate that she received was completely unwarranted and out of hand. She was called “too white” for the role, which is bizarre, and people began to say they wouldn’t watch it. But, get this: the actor who played Bernardo, also a Puerto Rican character, is not Puerto Rican. He’s Cuban. Yet, there was not an ounce of hate directed towards him- only towards the young girl making her film debut.

(By the way, I am very glad there was no hate directed towards him. David Alvarez is an incredibly talented human being and did a spectacular job as Bernardo!)


Here, we run into a hiccup. Not one to do with Rachel Zegler, exactly, but her West Side Story co-star. In June of 2020, allegations came out about Ansel Elgort sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl in 2014 when he was 20. Of course, this prompted a much more valid reason for people not to want to go see the film, as no one wants to support this kind of person. The very same day that the allegations came out, Rachel unfollowed him on Instagram and liked multiple tweets about believing survivors of sexual assault. She also tweeted the following:

“I am feeling a little lost tonight, and I am feeling a little disappointed. I know some of you are, too. that’s the world right now— but it’s necessary. I love you. loving you is the easiest thing for me to do. goodnight.”

When all of this was being released, Ziegler was just 19 years old, and COVID-19 was just starting to become widespread. West Side Story, which was supposed to be released in 2020, had been pushed back, and everyone was stuck at home. Having been in the film industry for maybe a year before everything was shut down, this tweet was the best way she could think to address this very serious situation without seeming inattentive or dismissive and overdoing it. Even still, this wasn’t enough for the public. This horrid event wasn’t her doing; these weren’t her actions, and yet people expected some sort of explanation out of her, a response that spoke for Elgort.

Two years after this initially occurred, Zegler spoke about this in the May 2022 issue for ELLE.

“[There is] inherent discomfort that comes with that realization that there are tons of people who think that you have to answer for the actions of an adult male who can speak for himself. It is so wildly disappointing at every turn, no matter how you slice it," she explained. "No matter how many times I've tried to justify people's concern when it comes to me in my brain, but then realizing that it comes from a place of me having to answer for that, and not them actually caring about whether or not I was okay, was really hurtful."

To those who did think this way, I ask one simple question:

Why did you expect a teenager to explain the actions of her then-26-year-old male co-star?


Jump to 2021 and although the pandemic is still ongoing, the entertainment industry is starting to get back on its feet. West Side Story is finally coming out this year and Rachel Zegler’s career is only growing with her joining the cast in Shazam! Fury of the Gods and Disney’s live-action Snow White movie. Yet, the more success she seemed to have, the more the discourse grew.

When it came time to embark upon the press tour for West Side Story, Rachel, among others of the cast, was constantly asked question after question about Elgort’s actions. People, again, chastised her needlessly online for this, even though it was not her responsibility in the first place. Luckily, quite a few people stood up for her as well.

Then, with Shazam! Fury of the Gods, people left multiple horrid comments on social media in response to her casting announcement. Many claimed, once again, that they would not be seeing the film because of her. Lots continued to call her a “fake Latina,” wondering how someone who “takes roles from real Latinas” was still getting roles and labeled her acting as “stale,” saying that she was untalented. If I do say so myself, it's quite a big talk from people hiding behind their phones. Also, completely untrue. Zegler is FILLED with raw talent, and it’s clear that people’s sexism and racism clouded their perspective.

Now, with Snow White… You truly begin to see just how awful people can be. The very people who had claimed she was “too white” for the role of Maria in West Side Story were now the same people who were aghast at the idea of someone of Latin heritage starring as the very first Disney princess. The hypocrisy is wild, calling someone “too white” for one role yet “too dark” for another. It mimicked what occurred when Halle Bailey was announced as Ariel in the live-action rendition of The Little Mermaid, and it was incredibly disheartening to watch it happen again.


This year began with Rachel Zegler winning a Golden Globe for her performance in West Side Story! Although that year’s ceremony wasn’t broadcast or live-streamed due to boycotts against the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) for lack of diversity, Ziegler did react to her win online, tweeting out this little heartfelt message:

I got cast as María in West Side Story on 1/9/19.

I just won a Golden Globe for that same performance on 1/9/22.

life is very strange.”

Then, the Oscars came about. West Side Story was nominated for seven awards, one of them being Best Picture. Normally, when a film is nominated for Best Picture, most of the main cast, especially the lead, are invited to the award ceremony.

This was not the case in this situation.

About a week before the 94th Academy Awards took place, a fan commented on Zegler’s Instagram, saying that they “can’t wait to see what [she’ll] be wearing” to the Oscars. In response, Rachel replied with the following:

In my opinion, this seems like a totally reasonable response to not getting invited to an award ceremony that a film you worked on for three years was nominated for. Keep in mind, nowhere in this reply, nor any of her future ones on this matter (and there weren’t many at all), did she blatantly ask or force the Academy to invite her.

We all know how persuasive the internet can be. People took it upon themselves to share how disappointing it was that, after the Academy claimed to want to embrace diversity, they couldn’t even be bothered to invite the lead of a nominated Latine-lead film. Twitter went crazy, Rachel Zegler’s Instagram comments where the original reply resided were filled, and people made sure to let the Academy know what a mistake they had made. She was quite aware of what was occurring and clarified to everyone her thoughts via Twitter before it got out of hand:

my goodness, folks!! appreciate all the support. I really really do. we live in such unprecedented times, and a lot of work behind the scenes goes into making movie magic happen. that goes for film productions (like the one I am so lucky to be currently shooting in London) and awards shows alike. let’s all just respect the process and I’ll get off my phone x R.

Well, guess what? It worked.

Extremely last minute, Rachel received an invite to the show and was asked to present an award with Jacob Elordi. Making sure to thank Disney for adjusting rehearsals and filming as she was shooting Snow White at that time, she tweeted:

“Well folks, I can't believe I’m saying this but... see you on Sunday! the absolutely incredible team at @Disney and our snow white producers worked some real-life magic, and I am thrilled to be able to celebrate my @westsidemovie fam at the Oscars.”

All in all, her dress was stunning, her co-star, Ariana Debose, ended up winning Best Supporting Actress, and she got quite the story out of the entire endeavor. But, sadly, things get twisted quite easily. Not long after the Oscars were broadcast, people began to claim that she had “made” the Academy invite her and had completely “messed up” Disney’s filming schedule for Snow White, adding fuel to the fire for those who didn’t want her in that role. I’ve even heard people use this in person as one reason they don’t like her, even though it is not true.

Words hurt. They really do. Yet, you can tell that people absolutely love working with Rachel because she keeps being cast in new projects. This is the year that not only was she announced to star in the animated movie Spellbound, but her casting as the lead character, Lucy Gray Baird, for The Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, was also made public. Again, people were quite terrible when it came to these castings, especially her as Lucy Gray Baird, saying that she was going to “ruin” the franchise. The judgment that others have for those they have not met nor seen perform in a particular role is bizarre to me.

This year also came with Rachel Zegler making a video doing a dramatic reading of tweets that Britney Spears had recently shared. Of course, she realized her mistake quite quickly and immediately apologized. 

“Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Britney and am rooting for her always. While I meant no disrespect whatsoever, I should have thought about how this could be perceived, and I’m so sorry for upsetting or disappointing anyone. This is not a situation to be taken lightly, and we should all be lifting Britney up in this pivotal time. Thanks for hearing me out, and a big thank you to all who held me accountable.”

At this time, she was a 20-year-old girl who had been thrust into the limelight and was still adapting to it all. I want to clarify that I am not in favor of the clip she made. But people make mistakes. It’s human nature. You have to forgive to continue, especially if it’s not terribly harmful and especially if they’ve apologized sincerely. Yet, many people gave her no grace. I understand holding others accountable for their mishaps, but to continue to utilize this against her when so many other celebrities, especially men, have done worse and slid by is what rubs me the wrong way. 

By the middle of the year, Rachel had posted a video on her YouTube channel, something she doesn’t do very often nowadays. The title is “I ran away from my problems for 72 hours,” and while the first 12 minutes of it or so is a lovely little vlog about her adventuring, she gets very honest in the last bit of it. She shares how she is aware that this video will “probably be taken out of context” and that it’s fine because “that’s what she signed up for,” which is quite heartbreaking. Zegler also clarifies how she never wants to come off as “ungrateful for the opportunities [she has].”

Reader, if you get the chance, I suggest watching it. 


The majority of 2023 is taken up by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Additionally, Rachel Zegler's comments and replies on Instagram and Twitter are turned off for the better part of this year. In all honesty, I don't blame her. Why let the negativity bleed into your life when you can welcome the positivity instead?

Yet, negativity always finds a way to thrive on the internet. Zegler's comments on the upcoming Snow White film from the D23 Expo 2022 surfaced, causing an uproar between Disney fans and conservatives alike. She mentioned how the original movie had scared her when she was young (very valid, me too), how they were changing a bit of it so it wasn't all about being saved by a man, and that there would be a "modern edge" to this retelling. Rachel Zegler also said how, in the first film, the Prince kind of "stalks" Snow White which, again, she isn't entirely wrong. All of these points she makes seem well-founded and very similar to statements that past live-action princesses, like Lily James or Emma Watson, have said. Yet, Zegler got the brunt of the reception. Many called for her to be recast and followed up by saying the movie would "flop." Others began to say that she wasn't "fit" for the role now, didn't honestly care for Disney or Snow White, and was "ungrateful" for this opportunity.

In case you are unaware, Rachel is a die-hard Disney fan, so this is untrue. Just scroll through her past Instagram or Twitter posts, and you'll see I'm right.

In response to all of this discourse, Zegler tweeted out this with some very adorable pictures of her as a young kid dressed as Disney princesses, one of them being Snow White:

"I am extremely appreciative of the love I feel from those defending me online, but please don't tag me in the nonsensical discourse about my casting. 

I really, truly do not want to see it.

so I leave you with these photos! I hope every child knows they can be a princess no matter what."

She left it at that and said no more on the subject. I applaud her immensely for this. Being so mature and gracious when horrible things are being thrown around about you online is not easy.

Also occurring this year was Zegler's casting in the A24 film Y2K and the release of both Shazam! Fury of the Gods and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. When Rachel revealed that she became a part of the DC Universe because she "needed a job," the internet went wild. She goes on to mention that it was tough to book a job in the middle of the pandemic, especially since West Side Story hadn't been released just yet, and she was extremely excited and lucky to have landed the role of Anthea in this film. But, even with all of this, people only heard her say: "I needed a job. I'm being so serious." The internet did not like that and, once again, called her ungrateful.

Yet, when Jacob Elordi said something similar, people laughed and called it "relatable". When Robert Pattinson dissed the movies he was in, people were happy to see that he was being "so real." I bring out both examples to prove that if a man says something within this realm, it's funny. But, if a woman were to say the same thing, it'd be considered rude or ungrateful. To be clear, both actors are incredibly talented and fabulous at their work. I hold nothing against them, just the media.

Jump ahead to the end of the year. Lionsgate can get an interim agreement with SAG-AFTRA a few weeks before The Ballad of Songbrids and Snakes comes out. Not long after, the strike ends, promotion is underway, and red-carpet events are happening. Slowly, people begin to pivot their view on Rachel Zegler, many finding her as charming and spectacular as Lucy Gray Baird. Rachel opened her comment section on Instagram again and started allowing people to reply to her tweets again. She quickly became a favorite in The Hunger Games fanbase, and many newcomers were confused about why she constantly received so much hate. Overall, by the end of 2023, things seemed calmer and a lot…



2024 has barely begun; thankfully, not much can be said on this topic for this year. This trend seems to happen with young girls or women in entertainment constantly. People find them "annoying" or say they need "PR training" when, if a man were to act the same way, no one would bat an eye. Some examples off the top of my head include Brie Larson, Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, Miley Cyrus, Millie Bobby Brown… I could go on. It's a vicious cycle that is constantly repeated no matter how often we say "no more of this" or "separate the person from the character." Women in this field are ceaselessly shamed and criticized for simply being who they are. It's disgusting, it's dismaying, and it's disappointing to watch this get repeated over and over to girls in this industry. All this is to say that it's high time for women to get the proper appreciation for their work and the performances they put on.

It's high time that Rachel Zegler gets her flowers and the love she deserves.

She's more than earned it.

Now, we, as a public, must earn her trust back.

Written By Ashley Lavalle

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