It’s Time to Start Casting Fat Actors in Fat Roles
7 films featured real-life stories of fat people this year — but only one used a fat actor
I’ve long loved movies based on a true stories. I often spend weekday afternoons in the bluish glow of a matinee, watching thrillers ripped from the headlines, as well as biopics and historical dramas. The ritual of it is comforting: picking out seats, ordering drinks, tenting my knees between the seat and the metal bar in front of it. I drink in so many strangers’ stories to glean what I can learn, and to deepen my empathy and understanding. It’s an exercise in building my own humanity, and learning to see it more clearly in those around me.
The last year felt like a particularly promising one when it came to movies inspired by real events — particularly real events centered around real fat people. I was looking forward to The Best of Enemies, a movie about the friendship between civil rights organizer Ann Atwater and former Klan member C.P. Ellis. But as promotional materials rolled out, I was crestfallen, seeing Taraji P. Henson in a fat suit, and still so much thinner than the real Atwater. Ellis, too, had been dramatically slimmed down, recast as the wiry Sam Rockwell.
But Best of Enemies wasn’t alone in casting thin actors as real-life fat people in recent years. Hulu’s The Act stars Patricia Arquette as a decidedly thinner Dee Dee Blanchard, the mother of Munchhausen-by-Proxy victim Gypsy Rose Blanchard. In 2017, Darkest Hour portrayed the famously fat Winston Churchill as Gary Oldman in a fat suit, bald cap, and prosthetic features. Stan and Ollie (2018) told the story of the legendary comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, featuring John C. Reilly in a fat suit; and Christian Bale famously gained more than 40 pounds to play former vice president Dick Cheney in Vice (2018) before losing it again for his role as a race car driver in Ford v Ferrari (2019). Earlier this year, Scarlett Johansson, a cisgender woman, announced her plan to play Dante “Tex” Gill, a trans man and gangster in the proposed film Rub and Tug. The outcry against Johansson’s casting was swift and decisive, as it well should’ve been, leading Johansson to abandon the role. But few critics mentioned that Gill was also fat, and Johansson is a lifelong thin woman.