Rebel Wilson and the trap for plus-sized stars

Ferreira’s role on Euphoria was initially hailed for its representation of a plus-sized girl in high school – before her character was disappointingly sidelined in season two. Ferreira – who has now left the show – said on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast: “I think my character, who I love so dearly, I don’t think there was a place for her to go… I really wanted to be able to not be the fat best friend, you know?”

The past decade has shown that there is room –  and demand – for much more nuanced plus-sized characters – Aidy Bryant’s Annie in Shrill and Chrissy Metz’s Kate in This Is Us are two examples. Netflix’s Survival of the Thickest, starring comedian Michelle Buteau as a plus-sized woman navigating a break-up and a career in the fashion industry, has been described as “a love letter to plus sized women”. But progress is slow – and on the big screen, even slower.

It was only last year that Brendan Fraser won an Oscar for portraying a 600lb (272kg) depressed recluse –  a role he controversially wore a fat suit for. Writing in The Guardian about the film, Lindy West, writer and producer of the TV show Shrill said it was: “A fantasy of fat squalour, a confirmation that we ‘do this’ to ourselves: that we gorge buckets of chicken like mindless beasts, that we never see the world, never let the sun warm our bodies, never step into the sea, never make art, never feel human touch, never truly live.”

There was also criticism when Emma Thompson wore a fat suit to play the role of Miss Trunchbull in the 2022 remake of Matilda. Shannon Purser, who plays Barb on Stranger Things, tweeted: “they’re not hiring fat actors for iconic fat characters because they want a big name star. There are almost no fat big name stars because fat actors are’t allowed upward mobility… the industry sees us as two-dimensional set pieces.”

While it’s hard to imagine a character like Fat Amy being green lit today, there’s still a long way to go before an actor’s weight isn’t seen as their defining characteristic by casting agents and producers. As Da’Vine Joy Randolph recently said, explaining why her recent success went beyond her dreams: “When you truly understand the climate of this industry and who’s telling the stories, we’re marginalised. And then on top of that, to be a woman of colour who is curvy?”

Randolph won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in The Holdovers, giving a speech that was all about acceptance: “I always wanted to be different, but now I realise that I just need to be myself.” She has also spoken about refusing to stay in her lane, saying: “What if I want the whole highway?”

Randolph will star in an upcoming movie, Bride Hard, alongside Rebel Wilson. Wilson plays the lead and her role is, ironically, that of a best friend (and secret spy) struggling with the task of being maid-of-honour. It’s a comedy  though hopefully this time, her character will be in on the joke, rather than the punchline of it.

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