An Oscar for the best fat suit? The Whale is drawing backlash for its two Oscar wins

The 2023 Oscars were decidedly scandal-free compared to last year’s awards, but the winners themselves nonetheless sparked some controversy. Darren Aronofskys The whale is certainly the most controversial — a film that earned Brendan Fraser a Best Actor award but has been dogged by allegations of fat phobia.

The whaleThe second Oscar for Best Make-up and Hairstyling was particularly polarizing because it was awarded so specifically for the film’s use of a fatsuit.

Celebrated as Brendan Fraser’s comeback, The whale is a drama about an overweight English professor who struggles with his relationships and self-image and never leaves home. The role required Fraser to wear a fatsuit weighing over 300 pounds, and the film has been accused of perpetuating harmful stereotypes about fat people and portraying its protagonist as tragic, dysfunctional and addicted to binge eating. In the New York Timeswrote Roxane Gay, “how this film deals with Charlie’s obesity is outrageous: exploitative and sometimes cruel.”

In response to this widespread criticism, Aronofsky defended the film as “an exercise in empathy,” saying that the backlash “makes no sense to me.” But when the time came The whale To win his two Oscars — specifically the one for makeup and hairstyling — many commentators were still disgusted.

Of the five makeup nominees this year, three were at least partially nominated for fatsuit prosthetics: The whale, The Batman (with a transformative makeup job for Colin Farrell) and elvis (which included extensive historical hair/makeup alongside prosthetics for Tom Hanks and Austin Butler, whose fatsuit led to the sweaty Elvis meme).

A lot of The whale‘s publicity revolved around Fraser’s experience of dressing and performing in a fat suit, which meant hours of work every day in the makeup chair. Fraser’s transformation into his £600 character was explicitly treated as a spectacle, which clashed with his and Aronofsky’s defense of the film as sympathetic drama.

In recent years there has been increasing opposition to the use of fatsuits, in part due to the film industry’s discrimination against fat actors. Filmmakers seem to prefer hiring a skinny celebrity in a fatsuit to casting an actor who actually looks like one. At the same time, prosthetics themselves are often viewed with grotesque fascination. The imagery of The whale‘s Oscar win was particularly notable as the film’s makeup artists accepted the award with a picture of Brendan Fraser’s nude fatsuit in the background.

While movie fans in general seem excited about Brendan Fraser’s comeback, The whaleThe two victories cast a shadow over the night for many viewers. Despite the many conversations about diversity and inclusivity at the Oscars, the fatsuit issue remains a very obvious blind spot.


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*Initial publication: March 13, 2023 at 9:16 am CDT

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in science fiction films and superheroes, she also appears as a film and television critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she is the co-host of the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw An Oscar for the best fat suit? The Whale is drawing backlash for its two Oscar wins

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