The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Ballad of Rebel Wilson

Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief


It shouldn’t surprise me but I’m always stunned to see how little Hollywood has changed since its inception. There have been leaps and bounds with the depiction of homosexuality but in terms of gender, and specifically, weight that the industry is still stagnant on. I mention this as it’s meant to orient readers on what I’m talking about and why. I love actress Rebel Wilson and I say that with all the excitement this exclamation point can muster! Don’t be surprised if the name throws you off, you should know who actress Rebel Wilson is. She had a small, but memorable role in Bridesmaids as Kristen Wiig’s roommate and afterwards appeared in What to Expect When Your Expecting, and most recently in the VOD smash Bachelorette. The problem is in the roles she’s portraying, that of the loveable albeit dumb but always “fat” friend. In analyzing her roles it’s become brutally obvious that Hollywood still hasn’t found a way to make big girls acceptable nor are they able to handle a movie. This trope stands for males too but with Rebel Wilson in particular, a disturbing trend continues to be showcased.

You might be wondering the impetus for penning this article. I mentioned before I love Wilson and I love how she’s one of the fresh faces of comedy that’s emerged. Several of the females in this new breed of comedy are showing that one doesn’t have to be supermodel thin or gorgeous to be confident, witty and beautiful. I again cite Kristen Wiig as well as Melissa McCarthy make it apparent why Bridesmaids continues to be the breath of fresh air in the staid world of Hollywood. Wilson in particular has slowly branched out from playing the idiot, starting out as the girl who didn’t know to close the bag of peas before placing it on her infected tattoo in Bridesmaids, to playing a kindhearted woman trying to have what every woman wants, I.e. a great wedding in the other atrocious Bachelorette.

Her latest film to hit theaters is the Glee inspired musical Pitch Perfect, which showcased the frightening trend in Wilson’s career: that it must always be reiterated to audiences that she’s fat. Now I haven’t seen Pitch Perfect yet but the marketing of her character doesn’t inspire me to see Wilson as a source of inspiration. Her character is named Fat Amy, the reason being that she’s aware the snotty blonde girls of her school already call her that so why not try to embrace it as a badge of honor? I understand the film’s attempt to have Wilson’s character lessen the sting of being tormented for her size but the film seems to make it appear like that’s her first name. Even IMDB lists that as her entire name, not simply Amy, again to tell the audience’s “hey it’s funny she’s fat right?” If you look at the poster this disturbing fact is highlighted more as all the other girls in this film are skinny, leaning against each other in short skirts with Wilson relegated to the far left covered from head to toe. There’s no other girls that look like Wilson at all unlike the Bridesmaids poster (which the Pitch Perfect poster makes no bones about stealing from) which had Melissa McCarthy in it.

If you think this is simply Wilson doing one particular role I ask you to return to my review of Bachelorette from a few weeks ago. Wilson plays a kindhearted woman who invites her three skinny “best” friends to her wedding only to have them constantly berate and make fun of her behind her back. I never understood why a nice girl like Wilson’s character would hang out with these backstabbing bitches. At one point a main character gets all indignant about Wilson’s character getting married because of how she looks! The screenwriter of that film in particular obviously found it surprising that heavy people get married!

I hate to compare Wilson to Melissa McCarthy but sadly she’s the only contemporary figure we have in Hollywood to compare. McCarthy started out as a character actress, memorably on Gilmore Girls where there was never any mention made about her character being heavy. The same with Bridesmaids where McCarthy’s character Megan was a sexual dynamo who gave main character Annie (Wiig) an amazing pep talk about standing up for yourself. McCarthy’s character was not a victim and refused to be a character up for ridicule. That’s transferred to her character of Molly on the CBS sitcom Mike and Molly that while still making jokes about being fat has moved to making the characters human complete with love and marriage. McCarthy’s upcoming roles don’t have her playing the “fat woman” but a woman.

So why is Wilson singled out for these types of roles where the joke is her weight? Critics can say that she’s taking the roles so obviously she must be okay with it, but there’s no way of knowing what other roles she’s offered? Who knows if out of the handful of scripts she gets if any of them have her playing a different character. One theory is that she’s one of a handful of actresses who is still making movies at all as a heavy actress. Other than Rosie O’Donnell can you name one actress starring in films whose heavy? No. It would be easy to say O’Donnell’s sexuality ruined her chances of continuing on as a leading lady but she’s been quoted several times in the past saying her weight limited her roles. Fans today know her as the smart-ass Doris from A League of Their Own who was a tomboy but was the loveable heavy friend to Madonna’s sexy Mae. I do believe Queen Latifah has been able to transcend being the heavy go-to girl but her niche roles in African-American films already limit her audience range.

The same trend can be seen with male actors. Chris Farley was the go-to funny fat guy for years, a stereotype he tried desperately to get out of to no avail. Kevin James has recently tried to carry films but mixed results. Seth Rogen once soared as the loveable heavy guy yet he never had fat jokes hurled at him and since then he’s slimmed down significantly. The same goes for Jonah Hill whose said he lost the weight to take on action-orientated roles. The sheer fact that there’s more options for males in this category continues to showcase the fact that Hollywood doesn’t take to women who don’t look like Scarlett Johansson.

It doesn’t help matters that television continues to showcase heavy-set people as idiots and weirdoes (Here Comes Honey Boo Boo comes to mind to my dismay). For all of Hollywood’s talk of tolerance they can’t seem to accept a woman being confident, smart, and sexy when she’s heavy and Rebel Wilson continues to be a reminder of that. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Wilson transcend the haters and be able to carry a film, as a lead, where her weight is never mentioned and she doesn’t do a dramatic weight loss (covered by People magazine or some other rag) in order to expand her audience range. The film industry has moved so far and yet the simple truths remain: pretty girls with big boobs are what audiences pay for. This is a broken trope that needs to be fixed and hopefully Wilson will usher in a new breed of leading ladies who aren’t concerned with being a size zero. Unfortunately, her roles keep perpetuating the cycle.