|In comments to my last post, All I Need is a Good Cry and a Good Movie, RadicalMama asked my thoughts about casting Tracy Turnblad’s mother with a thin man when there are so many good actresses who could fill that role in the movie, Hairspray! I responded at length that I had similar concerns, then realized that the casting really needed to be a man.
Then I went and took a shower, the place where most of my thoughts get “fleshed out,” as did this one. I wondered if having a thin man, a leading man of leading men, play this particular role and in the way he played it, might have actually been better for the image of big women than having a big woman play the part, herself. Travolta didn’t play Edna like a skinny guy making fun of a fat woman, like happens in so many movies (especially about African American women). As CC notes in her post on Hairspray:
Yes, it is funny to see a man in a fat suit strut his stuff as a her, but there is never a moment in the movie where I feel like Travolta is anyone but Edna, the woman who was thin but now is not. The woman who is ashamed of herself and hides away and tries to protect her own daughter from being publicly ridiculed, and the woman who, finally, says, “I’m big, bold and beautiful” and owns it.
So here’s my question: does having a straight, white, male actor play this role in the way that he does give validity and presence to fat women in a way that speaks to other straight, white men? I guess I’m asking is do we need the oppressor (and I’m not saying that all straight white men are oppressors of fat women) to validate the oppressed (or that all fat women feel oppressed). From a Google search just now, I realize I’m late to the discussion, and maybe my take is flawed (it usually is), but I just wonder how Travolta’s role changes things. If it does, at all.
Here’s an interesting side note: the girls had the new Drew Carrey game show on last night and there was a young man and a young woman facing off against each other. I still don’t understand the premise of the show enough (I really wasn’t paying attention), but the question was something like “what percentage of Americans think there are too many fat jokes on television?” His number was in the high 30s or low 40s, something like that. She picked a number under 10%. The actually number was over 50%. My middle daughter said “Wow, she was really low.” I glanced up and said, “she’s skinny.” So was he, but I don’t think she ever really paid much attention to fat jokes, because they did not affect her. Having been thin-ish and now fat-ish, I definitely have a different perspective about what’s funny and what’s not and I do pay attention.