Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fat Actresses

Re: Just Wondering: Can we please give the Gabourey Sidibe body scrutiny a rest?

During the 2010 Oscars I was preoccupied with the possibility that Kathryn Bigelow would be the first woman to win Best Director. However, a close second on my radar was Gabourey Sidibe. I love her persona and unabashed self-confidence. When asked by E! how she felt in her dress she said: "Hot!" And not in a please get me a fan sort of way; no she thought she looked good. In a sea of Hollywood starlets who are trying to stay in the 0 - 2 size range, she still felt smokin'. Gabourey rules.

Now the article linked to above discusses how the scrutiny of Gabourey's size is the sole reason why she won't be a success in Hollywood according to the media. And how the media needs to tone it down. True. Howard Stern needs to stuff a sock in it, but the article is horribly short-sighted on the issue of women and weight in Hollywood.

In the early '00s I did my stint as a page at a major Hollywood studio. My outfit made me look a lot like Kenneth from 30 Rock and was 99% polyester; lots of fun to wear in the Southern California sun. One of the best parts of being the lowliest of the low on a studio lot is that you can go almost anywhere and no one will care that you are there. Hence, how I was able to survive working minimum wage in Los Angeles, by helping myself to every craft service table I was near. When I wasn't liberating Luna bars I was checking out the celebrities who were working on the lot. The one thing that startled me about actors and actresses in person is that their heads looked abnormally large in comparison to their bodies. We called them lollipops and they were everywhere. Aside from having abnormally large heads, it wasn't hard to see that the ladies of the silver screen are way too skinny. I also saw more protruding collar bones in my 8 months in Los Angeles than I've seen in the time since.

In recent years we've been trying to tell ourselves that a new type of woman is becoming more successful in mainstream media; a bigger woman, a real-looking woman. However, I don't believe that it is true. I am not saying this because I love to look at the scary skinny Hollywood actresses or models who subside on water and cigarettes, but because we are fooling ourselves into believing that there has been a massive cultural shift away from the super-skinny actress. For instance, Gabourey's story is so similar to another actress who burst onto the scene a couple of years ago - Nikki Blonsky - but then faded into oblivion.

"I'm not saying it's correct, but it's a simple fact that [Gabourey] will have to lose a lot of weight if she wants to keep getting parts," a casting director told Popeater. "The same thing happened to Nikki Blonsky from 'Hairspray.' Everyone said how great she was, and she hasn't worked since."


While some critics of the critics have said that Gabourey has already gotten her revenge by landing a reoccurring part on an upcoming Showtime series, I have to disagree that this indicates any sort of equity or larger cultural shift. For a comparison, let's look at the Best Actress nominees from last couple of years and see what they are up to:

Marion Cotillard – co-starred in Nine with Oscar-nominated Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz. Has several forthcoming pictures including a new Woody Allen project.
Cate Blanchett – multiple high-profile film projects coming up including Robin Hood and the Hobbit.
Julie Christie – Hollywood legend who just starred in New York, I Love You. However, has no projects in development (according to IMDB).
Laura Linney – Has a couple of films in production. Also starred post-Oscar nomination as Abigail Adams in the acclaimed mini-series John Adams.
Ellen Page – couldn't be busier. Has several film projects in the works. Also starred in one of my favorite 2009 films - Whip It.

Kate Winslet – has several projects in the works including a t.v. version of the film noir classic Mildred Pierce.
Anne Hathaway
– has 7! films in development and two in post-production.
Angelina Jolie – multiple film projects on their way including Salt. A film where she replaced Tom Cruise(!) as the lead character.
Melissa Leo – has worked on several high-profile independent films since her nomination. Will also be working on Mildred Pierce with Kate Winslet.
Meryl Streep – has received the most Academy Award nominations of any person ever when she was nominated once again in 2010 for the 16th time!

While cable T.V. has been churning out some interesting shows in the past decade and half, it still doesn't have the luster that high-profile film gigs do. To prove point about how we have a long way to go to reach size equity in media let's look at the forthcoming projects of Carey Mulligan, who is newer to the Hollywood scene and was also nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 2010 for her role in An Education. Forthcoming she is co-starring in Wall Street 2 which is directed by Oliver Stone. Also in the works is a re-make of My Fair Lady where she gets to play the role of Eliza Dolittle. Aside from those two projects she has two others in development.

If culturally we'd really reach a point of equity in Hollywood then Gabourey Sidibe and Nikki Blonsky would be co-starring in a film where their weight is not an issue and they still get to live happily ever after or, at least, go on a crazy adventure where men are not the focus of their mission. I hate to be the pessimist, but we have a long way to go before we reach that level of equity. For some intangible reason there is a belief that no one would watch this movie. However, I would like to say that I would put my $10 down to watch a film like this opening night. I look forward to finally seeing something a little different on opening night than the same ol' lollipop kid.


  1. Amen sista! The thing I want to see is close to what you talk about at the end - where we see real-looking women living everyday life. Where weight isn't the story. Their life is the story.

    The thing that gets me is the fact that we only talk about their size - not their health. We need to focus on plus size AND regular sized women being healthy and put less focus on how well they fit in a dress. I am all for plus sized women owning how they look and who they are but not if they are going to die from a heart attack at the age of 35.

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