Fat White Women Owe Credit to Black Actresses, Say Rebel Wilson's Critics

Rebel Wilson claimed to be the "the first ever plus-sized girl to be the star of a romantic comedy," which many believe ignored the Black women who came before her.
November 5, 2018, 5:35pm
Rebel Wilson on red carpet
Photo Getty Images

Rebel Wilson got her facts wrong.

Last week, the Australian comedian visited The Ellen DeGeneres Show to talk about her upcoming film Isn't It Romantic. Aside from the film being her first producing role, the 38-year-old touted that she was proud of the film because she was making history as "the first ever plus-sized girl to be the star of a romantic comedy," as she told DeGeneres.

Soon after the interview aired on Wednesday, people on Twitter were quick to correct the inaccuracy of Wilson's statement, particularly as it pertained to Black women's leading roles in romantic comedies prior to Wilson's forthcoming movie.

In response to one commenter who noted that Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique have both played romantic-comedy leads in the past, Wilson replied, "Yeah I, of course, know of these movies but it was questionable as to whether: 1. Technically those actresses were plus size when filming those movies or 2. Technically those films are categorized/billed as a studio rom-com with a sole lead. So there’s a slight grey area."

Jeneé Osterheldt, culture writer at the Boston Globe believes Wilson's statement and response to critics shows a lack of knowledge concerning cinematic history. "Rather than admit she made a mistake, Rebel Wilson chose to question the validity of Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique in cinematic history," she told Broadly. "There is no gray area when wondering if either of these brilliant women were plus-size. There is no gray area surrounding if the movies they starred in are rom-coms or not. Is her gray area one that wonders if Blackness counts in the canon? Rather than confront her ignorance, not only did Rebel double down on the erasure, she tried to erase the voices of those speaking out."

Claire Willett, a playwright and the author of The Rewind Files: The Complete Saga, took to Twitter to respond to Wilson's response. She wrote a detailed explanation on why she believes Wilson's statement perpetuated the erasure of plus-size Black women's narratives in Hollywood. While Willett contends that she can't speak for Black women, she believes the social media backlash—which resulted in Wilson blocking several prominent voices of Black Twitter—had to do with the actresses' neglectful comment that dismissed her plus-size forebears of color.

"Something that is important for fat white girls to consider here when we talk about how race plays into these questions is that that white male gaze punishes plus-size women of color even more than it punishes us," Willett tells Broadly. "If we’re overlooked, they’re invisible. They’re existing at the mercy of three separate structures of oppression—race, gender, and size—where, for fat white women, there are only two. That doesn’t diminish how hard it is to be a fat person of any race or gender identity or background or sexual orientation, but it does mean that you have to be able to step back and look at it holistically and see how all those vectors intersect."

Willett adds, "That’s why I think it hurt so many Black women both to see Rebel Wilson’s comments kind of dismiss those iconic Black actresses and then again to have her block them on Twitter and silence their voices. It just reinforces this idea that fat Black women are completely invisible. That’s why I wrote what I wrote, in the hopes it might get through; that even if Rebel Wilson didn’t choose to hear it, hopefully at least those women would feel seen."

After being mentioned repeatedly on Twitter, Mo'Nique responded by directly addressing Wilson.

"Let’s please not allow this business to erase our talent with giving grey areas and technicalities," the comedian said. "Take a moment and know the history. Don't be part of erasing it. I wish you the best."

To which Wilson responded, "Hi Monique, it was never my intention to erase anyone else’s achievements and I adore you and Queen Latifah so so much x I support all plus size ladies and everything positive we are doing together."

Despite clarifying her intention, April Reign the creator of the #OscarsSoWhite movement, believes that Wilson actions of blocking Black women on social media will not be forgotten. "Instead of acknowledging the wrong and attempting to learn from her mistake, she continued the erasure of Black women who attempted to educate her on how harmful her behavior is," Reign told Broadly. "We all make mistakes; it is how you handle the error that demonstrates your character."