Peak fat suit has brought us to this point.
Over the weekend, a review of the upcoming historical drama Till published by The Daily Beast stated that Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg was wearing a “distracting fat suit” in the picture. The only problem is, she wasn’t. On her very popular talk show, The View, Goldberg reminded the critic that she doesn’t wear a fat suit in the movie. “There was a young lady who writes for one of the magazines, and she was distracted by my fat suit in her review,” Goldberg said [via EW]. “I don’t really care how you felt about the movie, but you should know that was not a fat suit. That was me. I assume you don’t watch the show, or you would know that was not a fat suit.” The Daily Beast has since amended the article.
Writing about an actor’s looks comes with being a critic, but sensitivity is required. The additional adjective of “distracting” no doubt made the accusation even more humiliating for Goldberg, who had very public health issues in the last few years. For her part, Goldberg’s response was more than generous, asking the writer to “leave people’s looks out” of reviews. “Just comment on the acting, and if you have a question, ask somebody. I’m sure you didn’t mean to be demeaning,” she said. And yet, Goldberg’s peers don’t make it easy.
Over the last decade, award season has been littered with actors who donned large prosthetics for a full body transformation that allows Sarah Paulson to play Linda Tripp or Christian Bale to play Dick Cheney. These suits drive headlines about the unrecognizable celebrities underneath layers of padding, sweating it out in hopes of capturing the essence of their character’s point of view. Like method acting, prosthetics serve as a publicity generator, highlighting the grueling demands of performance and the actor’s willingness to transform for the sake of art.
However, as Jezebel writer Hazel Cills asserts, this isn’t the only effect. “When productions and actors draw attention to the labor that goes into this characterization, they more intensely highlight the distance between the thin actor and the fatter person they are apparently trying to seamlessly portray,” writes Cills. Not that this is anything new. Orson Welles wears a fat suit in Touch Of Evil—to say nothing of Charlton Heston in Brown face as the film’s protagonist—because this is how Welles wants us to see and judge his character. ” More to the point, as Cills write, actors don’t typically use this effect “to create a human, fully realized fat character but one that is grotesque.”
We’re seeing exactly that in Brendan Fraser’s The Whale, which has been upsetting people throughout its festival run. Last week, Mean Girls star Daniel Franzese admitted he was “very conflicted” over Fraser’s performance. “Seeing him get up so modest in Venice and have that moment, I was very happy for him. He’s a lovely man. And it’s great. But why? Why go up there and wear a fat suit to play a 400-lb. queer man?”
“To finally have a chance to be in a prestige film that might be award-nominated, where stories about people who look like us are being told? That’s the dream,” he continued. “So when they go time and time again and cast someone like Brendan Fraser…we’re like, ‘What the—?’ We can’t take it!”
These responses speak to our society’s shifting views on body positivity and representation. The fat-suit-to-award-season pipeline seems liable to burst any day as audiences grow more intolerant of their usage. Maybe it’s time for Hollywood to leave the fat suit behind and allow actors to try acting.