By Alaina L. Lewis
It isn’t everyday that one can turn on the television or walk into a movie theater and see their likeness immersed in a moving picture.
Unless of course one fits the stereotypical definition of Hollywood’s perfect leading lady: tall, thin, buxom, long-haired Barbie doll type. Be it a Beyonce, Gabrielle Union, a Jennifer Lopez or a Jennifer Aniston. All similarly shaped, none are a complete reflection of the entire American population.
Queen Latfiah’s new movie Just Wright opening in theaters this Friday marks the first time to my knowledge, (please, correct me if I’m wrong), that a romantic story, dripping with normalcy has been built around a plus size character. In the film Leslie Wright played by Queen Latifiah, is a physical therapist who falls for her client, a NBA star named Scott McKnight played by rapper Common.
Before Just Wright, Hollywood’s depiction of the overweight African-American character was a rather ghetto, loud, and obnoxious depiction like Mo’Nique’s character in B.A.P.S. or Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins. Viewers are likely not to see plus size actresses unless they’re hidden in a less desirable ensemble role.
WATCH QUEEN LATIFAH DISCUSS FILMING LOVE SCENES ON ‘ACCESS HOLLYWOOD:
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These characters are often nothing short of exhibiting buffoonery, perpetuating negative stereotypes, or the crux of the storyline is that of an ugly duckling tale in which the overweight heroine encounters a myriad of obstacles, yet is lucky enough to get the guy before the rolling credits.
Last year, we saw Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique jump into Precious and receive critical acclaim for their performances. But not without a cloud of negative commentary for both Sidibe’s weight and Mo’Nique’s Academy Award for playing a ghetto abusive mother.
On another note: It is almost normal for audiences to believe that Sidibe’s character in Precious is more fact than fiction when compared to her real life personality. This is partly because entertainment continues to push the myth through unsavory roles for overweight characters that extra weight is naturally coupled with depression, undesirability, rejection, and drama.
I don’t fault actors for stepping into these roles- working is a necessity for survival. What I question however, is why more screenwriters aren’t taking Elliot’s route- creating a film that speaks to an unacknowledged audience and portrays a character that reflects ones’ normal way of living.
Although Latifah has played in films where she’s held top billing and the element of love was there, none of the roles are as realistic as her character Leslie Wright. We can consider Last Holiday-the story was cute and enjoyable to watch, still, it wasn’t without the ugly duckling back story mirrored up to a terminal illness, exhibiting more fantasy than fact in typical Hollywood fashion.
With 33 percent of the American population being overweight, many of us wonder if it is too hard for Hollywood executives to believe when it comes to everyday living, even with a little extra weight, the plus size woman’s story is still the same as their smaller counterparts. Without argument, they deserve the same respect and attention in their storyline as a Brown Sugar or a Jason’s Lyric.
Hopefully with the introduction of Just Wright and with Tyler Perry’s creation of characters like Jill Scott’s Sheila in Why Did I Get Married?, the depiction of overweight characters will level out into supplying audiences with an equal visual representation.
So how will the public receive a film that finally measures up to reality? Is the fear of exhibiting excellence in roles for plus size characters about a desire not to seemingly promote obesity? Is leaving out an everyday story a way to make audiences want to change their appearance?