I have a romcom blind spot. I grew up watching Mission Impossible and The Fifth Element, Interview with a Vampire and Independence Day on repeat. I can more readily quote these films than I can romantic comedies. And yet, despite my glaring romcom illiteracy, even I knew Rebel Wilson’s claim that she was the “first ever plus sized girl to play the lead in a romcom” was incorrect.
Influential plus sized women on Twitter, Clarkisha Kent and Nabela, went to work sharing their knowledge about why Wilson was wrong but also how her inaccurate claims erase the legacies of the plus sized women whose work paved the way for a Rebel Wilson to even exist. This erasure is compounded by the fact many of these plus sized women who starred as leads in romcoms decades before Rebel Wilson were black women. Valerie Complex kindly put together a listicle of plus sized women who have starred as leads in romcoms over the years who aren’t Rebel Wilson.
Many expected Wilson to just admit she misspoke. Instead she chose to follow the ways of Lena Dunham, the patron saint of white feminism, and double downed. “…I of course know of these moves but it was questionable as to whether: 1. Technically those actresses were plus size when filming those movies or 2. Technically those films are catogorized/billed as a studio rom-com with a sole lead. So there’s a slight gray area.” Good God in heaven! This commitment to being the first ever plus sized woman to lead a studio romcom has Wilson desperately clutching for technicalities that would posit her and not Queen Latifah or Mo’Nique, black women, as a pioneer. Being first in anything is important because it makes you a gate keeper, a standard bearer. Rebel Wilson is neither and it would appear she is big mad that she was 1. corrected and 2. corrected by women of colour.
“There you go again, Dani, putting words in people’s mouths. How do you know she’s big mad about being wrong?” I woke up this morning to news that Rebel Wilson had blocked both Clarkisha Kent and Nabela on Twitter. The whole internet including publishing behemoth Teen Vogue told Wilson she was wrong yet it is Kent and Nabela she has strength for. It is here that her erasure of women of colour becomes multi-layered in its toxicity.
No one wakes up woke. It is important that we make mistakes, then learn and grow. Clarkisha Kent and Nabela taught me things I didn’t know. Just Wright, Last Holiday and Phat Girlz weren’t movies my taste in films gave me access to. I wouldn’t have been able to identify those as romcoms. Kent, Nabela and many others sharing information about those films made me go and download Last Holiday last night. I cried my little heart out.
In first questioning Queen Latifah and Mo’Nique’s plus sized credentials and then blocking the plus sized women who corrected her, Rebel Wilson told the plus sized community that the black women in cinema that came before her don’t count and that women of colour who correct her aren’t worth her time. There was an opportunity to share the wisdom of more knowledgeable women with her platform of 2.8 million followers. Instead she erased them from her view. Engaging with them would mean engaging with her privilege and acknowledging her blind spot where black plus sized black women are concerned. And that’s too much like hard work. It’s easier to have people believe you were the first, that your contributions alone are a body positivity game changer. When the truth is black women already had the game patterned so much so non-black women of colour needed their representations to see themselves. But by all means do what you need to do to promote your film cos everyone knows women of colour are acceptable collateral damage in white women’s quest to be first.