One to watch: Gabourey Sidibe

Evidently, a new independent film, "Push" is making some noise at Sundance this week. For the record, this is NOT the store-brand superhero movie that's being advertised right now of under the same title. Rather, this is an adapatation of the novel of the same telling the story of a fat teenaged girl named Precious in Harlem in the 1980's. By all accounts, the book handles some difficult material, but generally with a great deal of respect to its lead character. I have not read it, so I hope it was not using fat as visual shorthand for all sorts of negative meanings. Fat is often used as a shorthand metaphor for hostile associations, both when characterizing someone as a villian and as a sympathetic character. Hopefully, someone who has read the book can offer some incite to how the book treats the characters size.

Anyhow, for the movie, the producers made the daring choice of casting an actual fat person in the role rather than padding or feeding a thin actress. Not only does that demean fat people, there is a more insidious aspect to it. Studios usually use such trickier as a necessity because a script demands that we see a character both as fat and as thin. The simple truth is that Hollywood spends very little time telling stories about actual fat people. Just people who are fat for a narrative gimmick. So, its encouraging to see any film tell a fat person's story. I'm especially encouraged by a New York Times interview with the lead actress in the film, Gabourey Sidibe.

"Gabbie" is the daughter of legendary NYC busker and R&B singer Alice Tan Ridley and is the prototypical unknown. Kinda have to be for a role like this as its not like the media has put in much effort in making "known" young talented fat black actresses. Its hard to be known when there is little work for you because you don't look like someone Hollywood tells stories about. The risk of being an unknown in a film like this is that you will disappear into the role. People assume it must be YOU on the screen. She's an "outsider" by virtue of her appearance, so for some critics its not hard to leap to the conclusion that she isn't acting that much. Reading the Times interview, though, its exceptionally clear that she is not her character and is also acting the heck out of this film. A very nice passage closes the interview...

Desk-job ambitions or not, Gabourey Sidibe is not Precious; she is a natural performer. But we all have our insecurities. She used to see Mo’Nique, the plus-size actress and comedian, on television and pray to be like her. Now Mo’Nique is her co-star, playing her mother. What she wanted about Mo’Nique’s life was not necessarily the fame.

“I always thought she was really funny, but also she’s very confident in the way she looks,” Ms. Sidibe said. “She’s very happy in the way she looks, and that’s what I prayed about. At that time in my life, I wanted to be everybody else, but I wanted to want to be Gabbie.”She was speaking in the past tense.

“At this point,” she laughed, “I don’t think there’s anyone better than Gabbie.”
Sounds like a pretty good outlook to me. Keep a look out for this film coming out of the festival. It would be interesting to see if it can get wide distribution and whether anyone else can write a good story for a fat character.

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