Holly-body-positive-wood? Well, not yet. But on the way

Is there finally an article that feels hopeful to read about size and actresses in Hollywood? Yes, and it’s titled, “In a Body-Positive Moment, Why Does Hollywood Remain Out of Step?” by Brooks Barnes. I reacted with mainly “Right on!” or “Yes” responses to many of the points included in the article. However, I’m going to focus on three aspects that stood out to me: first, Jennifer Garner in Alias, a pivotal, mold-breaking female character; second, casting, meaning seeking the best storyteller and not an idealized body type; and third, the other actor’s experience of a scene about the lead’s weight.
 

Here’s a bit of background about the article that inspired this blog. Ms. Macdonald, the inspiration for the original article, has been classified as a “bigger” actress. Her movie recently debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. Of interest, she was cast in a leading role described as attractive and “self-assured.” She has been receiving positive reviews for her performance. Upon arriving in Cannes for her premiere, her luggage had gotten lost. As an actress of size, imagine what it was like to try and find a red-carpet-ready-replacement outfit on such tight notice. Not easy.
 

Please note that I will often refer to an “actor” or “actress” instead as a “storyteller.” It is a gender-neutral term and one that I find holds truth.
 

OK, onto the first point: Jennifer Garner in Alias, a pivotal, mold-breaking female character.
 

In the article, Macdonald remembered the lead female character in Alias as the first time she “had seen a truly kick-ass female character.” This seemed to change her way of seeing herself, her own possibilities, and power. I fully agree! I watched that show, weekly and faithfully, with a sense of empowerment, too. Powerful female characters matter.
 

Point two: casting, meaning seeking the best storyteller and not an idealized body type.

According to the article, David Rubin, a casting direction and Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board member said, “So often leading roles are perceived by writers, directors and producers as physically idealized, leaving little room for inventive ways of portraying them. . . The ultimate goal is to cast actors in roles where their unconventional appearance has absolutely no bearing on the character or story line,” The article extends this point by offering the following by Melissa Silverstein, “That includes race, gender, sexuality, physical abilities and body type, which is one that usually gets left out of the conversation.” Yes it does.
 

Please, Hollywood, cast the best person to communicate the story–period. (Seems to be working very well when you consider a current mega blockbuster musical that has been recognized for casting basically whoever is awesome in the role through “colorblind” and “color-conscious” casting [Gelt, 2017]). I can only speak for myself, but I’ve been more than ready for casting any storyteller of any body type if that storyteller can connect and suck me into the story. What about you?
 

Point three: the other actor’s experience of a scene about the lead’s weight.
 

When reading the article, the following caught me off guard, and I admit, a bit of wetness might have fallen out of my eye. “The scene was difficult to shoot because the actor cast as the main instigator, McCaul Lombardi, could not bring himself to hurl the insults at Ms. Macdonald. She ended up coaxing him through it.” Now, I don’t know exactly what dialogue this refers to, but I can imagine since we know the article points out the film’s “painful scenes related to weight.”
 

Even though a storyteller is trained to deliver messages and words with believability, what must that be like when those words betray that storyteller’s personal values? What about if those words trigger awareness of one’s own implicit or explicit biases that are now captured, or possibly exposed, on film? What if the words a storyteller has to say feel wrong, hurtful, biased, degrading, or stigmatizing? This cannot be an easy part of the job.
 

Sometimes, scenes are hard for audience members to witness but are helpful for bringing attention to difficult topics. Hats off to actors who tell difficult and awakening human stories.
 

Conclusion

This article brought out a feeling of gratitude for those performers and casting folks who don’t keep things safe—those who support meaningful stories and cast out of the box.
 

Hollywood may be the last or perceived as slow to catch on to the body-positive movement, and you might be expecting a rant here about what Hollywood should do and how fast they should do it. Nope, I won’t rant because change takes time. (Think about the last time you tried to break a habit.) What’s most important to me is that change is underway and happening. If it moves gradually but doesn’t slip backwards or stall for too long, I believe it’s more likely to become permanent change. However, Barnes also acknowledges the following pattern to be wary of in Hollywood:
 

In particular, Ms. Macdonald must avoid a cycle that plays out over and over in moviedom, one that some film agents coarsely call the fat flavor of the moment. A plus-size actress, almost always an unknown, lands the central role in a film and delivers a knockout performance. She is held up by producers and the entertainment news media as refreshing, long overdue evidence that Hollywood’s insistence on microscopic waistlines is ending. And then she is slowly but surely pushed into bit parts, many of which are defined by weight.
 

So who really knows what the future holds, but it continues to feel hopeful for seeing more people of all types, shapes, and sizes in powerful and leading roles. I know that I don’t care what a storyteller’s weight is or if he/she/they fit some sort of “type;” I care if that person makes me feel, follow, and invest in the story and the characters in it.
 

References

Barnes, B. (2017, August 16). In a body-positive moment, why does Hollywood remain out of step? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/16/movies/in-a-body-positive-moment-why-does-hollywood-remain-out-of-step.html?emc=eta1

Gelt, J. (2017, July 13). Authenticity in casting: From ‘colorblind’ to ‘color conscious,’ new rules are anything but black and white. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-ca-cm-authenticity-in-casting-20170713-htmlstory.html
 

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