I was excited to see the movie Pitch Perfect, based solely on my love of a capella and a single clip from the trailer. The clip shows Australian actress Rebel Wilson introducing herself as “Fat Amy.” “You call yourself Fat Amy?” another character asks, and she replies, “Yeah, so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.”
I love this. As someone who spent a lot of unnecessary time agonizing over the label “fat,” giving myself permission to use it has been a huge part of accepting my body how it is. The word “fat” is often less of a descriptor and more of a weapon to throw at people whose bodies don’t conform. It comes saddled with a whole mess of connotations: “fat” also means ugly, or stupid, or lazy. I am a huge fan of reclaiming the word to mean just what it says. I’m not thin, and no one would argue that I am; therefore I’m fat, end of story, zero angst. So I was excited to see this viewpoint represented in the trailer.
Unfortunately, the movie is full of mixed messages. While Wilson’s Fat Amy is indeed fat and wonderful, consistently hilarious, and not ashamed of her body for a second, the script relies on tired assumptions about fat people for easy laughs. Jokes are made again and again about Fat Amy’s distaste for exercise. At one point, while the rest of the group works out together, Amy lies on the floor and wriggles her legs; when asked, she says she’s doing “horizontal running.” (Wilson’s delivery is so good that I found myself torn—uncomfortable at the portrayal of the fattest character as lazy and sedentary, but still laughing at the joke.)
Rebel Wilson is a talented physical comedian, and often makes a joke of her clumsy movements or poor dancing, but occasionally it is unclear if the joke is Wilson’s acting or her body itself. Such is the case when, at a climactic moment, Fat Amy rips off her shirt—the crowd in my movie theater audibly groaned, and I wondered if the reaction would be the same if Fat Amy weren’t portrayed as undesirable.
Fat Amy’s portrayal is typical of the way Pitch Perfect tiptoes around feminism. On the surface, the premise is feminist. The movie centers around an all-female a capella group attempting to succeed in a field where male groups dominate. (My favorite line happens when one of the a capella commentators expresses surprise at the quality of the group, saying he would never have bet on them. The other commentator responds brightly, “Well, that’s because you are a misogynist!”) The screenplay pays lip service to ideas such as expanding the diversity of the group and trying out songs that are less traditionally feminine.
However, Pitch Perfect perpetuates real-world oppression. Aside from the jokes about Fat Amy’s body, there is also a lesbian character who constantly makes unwanted sexual advances on other characters, perpetuating the homophobic myth that gay people are predators. While the cast includes people of various ethnicities and body types, the main characters are all thin, white, and conventionally beautiful, so much so that the attempts to make Anna Kendrick’s character seem like an outcast because she wears black nail polish ring hollow. The movie uses feminist language and ideas, but it fails at actually portraying different types of women in respectful ways. Instead, it falls back on stereotypes.
Magdalena Newhouse is a senior at Oberlin College, where she teaches a class on body positivity and fat acceptance.
THANK YOU. I was going nuts because I seemed to be the only person on the planet who found the movie problematic. Countless friends whose opinions I trust failed to see anything at all wrong with the film, and I was shocked that the reaction hasn’t been stronger. I enjoyed the movie too, but I think your final sentence captures it completely: “The movie uses feminist language and ideas, but it fails at actually portraying different types of women in respectful ways. Instead, it falls back on stereotypes.”