Dumplin’ is the Feel-Good Movie for Fat White Women
I originally wrote this in December and submitted it but it wasn’t picked up, so you get to read it now.
This essay contains spoilers for the movie Dumplin’. Read at your own risk.
I will freely admit that I am out the loop on pop culture these days. I’m exhausted, working more hours than I want on projects I’m only interested in because they keep a roof over my head, and I’m strongly disliking it. But when I saw all the hype about a Netflix movie about living while fat, I decided to use my self-care time to watch it.
Unlike white people, I don’t struggle to relate to people who don’t look like me. In fact, I’ve been conditioned to do it all my life. It is only in my adulthood that I specifically look for Black women, particularly fat Black women in media. And, no bullshit, the norm is for us to not exist and when we appear, it’s usually some sassy, violent, or comic relief stereotype, often played by a Black man in drag. While there have been some exceptions, they are barely counted, as exemplified by Rebel Wilson’s casual dismissive remarks about fat, Black women in romantic comedies.
All that is to say that I wasn’t surprised by the lack of fat, Black women in Dumplin’. I wasn’t surprised by the lack of Black women with speaking roles. I mean, there was a Black teen pageant contestant, but she was filler. The real competition was the super pale, blond, blue-eyed, slim contestant, because we all know what the amerikkkan standard of beauty is. That the lead character is the fat version of that is negligible. We should celebrate that fat women are visible and somewhat nuanced romantic leads, right?
I mean, that was the deal with the comic Faith. I remember when the comic book launched and all the hype it received for being revolutionary. And yes, it was nice to see a fat hero whose large body wasn’t the focus of her narrative, but she was still drawn as a blond, blue-eyed, white woman and ultimately, I wasn’t interested.
Real talk, I don’t actually care anymore. I’ve finally learned that if I want to see characters I relate to, I need to create and promote the shit out of them. Same goes with art. I can’t keep expecting the world to see the value of fat, Black women like me. When it happens, that’s great but I stopped waiting and yearning years ago and I don’t see that changing.
But back to the movie and when we finally see a Black person speaking on screen - the drag queen, Lee, who, along with a cadre of magical drag queens, serves as the fairy godmother for the non-conforming white teens. Played by the talented but wasted Harrold Perrineau, it was unsurprising to see the one speaking Black character be layered in his tokenism. This is a common thing seen in movies and shows where the Black character is also queer or trans or disabled or some other intersection of marginalization that lets the producers check off the “diversity” box. It was cliché and irritating. It was handled terribly, but hey, this is a feel-good movie was about marginalized, fat white women, so why am I irritated that they delivered just that. I wasn’t the demographic for this movie, I mean, it’s in a small town in TEXAS for goodness sake! We know only white people live in those working-class neighborhoods. Just ask Bernie Sanders.
Did the movie tug on my heartstrings? Sure. There was loss, pain, and struggle as Willowdean tried to figure herself out and I know those feelings. I keep experiencing them in different ways because that’s life. And yes, it was definitely nice to see fat women following their dreams. So, while it may be affirming for fat white women the way Wonder Woman was affirming for many white women, it left me mostly cold.
For fat, Black women like me, that’s life. Never seen. Never heard. Never wanted. It is a part of the white patriarchal capitalist supremacist narrative that views people who are not white, male, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender, christian, and american as useless. And I’m not interested in supporting that message any longer.
Dumplin’ is a no for me.
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