Mesoderm formation in the Drosophila embryo depends on the maternal Toll signaling pathway. The Toll pathway establishes the Dorsal nuclear gradient, which regulates many zygotic genes to establish the mesodermal fate and promote the invagination of ventral cells. An important target gene of Dorsal is snail, which is required for proper mesoderm invagination. The Snail protein contains five zinc fingers and is a transcriptional repressor. However, it is not clear whether repressing target genes is a requirement for Snail to control ventral invagination. To examine such requirement, we conducted a series of genetic rescue experiments in snail mutant embryos. Snail, Worniu, and Escargot are closely related zinc-finger proteins and have equal functions during neuroblast development. However, among these three proteins, only Snail can rescue the mesoderm invagination phenotype. Moreover, the ability of various Snail mutant constructs to repress gene expression correlates with their ability to control invagination. This unique property of Snail in mesoderm formation can be attributed mostly to the CtBP co-repressor interaction motifs in the N-terminus, not to the C-terminal DNA-binding zinc fingers. Ectopic expression of Snail outside the ventral domain is not sufficient to induce cell movement even though repression of target genes still occurs. Together, the results show that the repressor function of Snail is essential for gastrulation. The repression of target genes by Snail may permit other factors in the ventral cells to positively promote mesoderm invagination.