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Fox’s “Glee,” the stereotyping of fat black women, and making friends with the loser kid in the wheelchair

April 24, 2009

This is a guest post by ampersand. It was originally posted yesterday at Alas! A Blog. Thanks to ampersand.

I’m getting sick of the-popular-kids-are-better-at-geek-stuff-than-the-geeks trope, which stinks of noblesse oblige. And there are a zillion other things wrong here. But I’ll still be giving this show a try, because I’m that much of a sucker for anything resembling a musical.

But about that preview: Note the unwritten rule in TV that it’s okay to cast a fat actress if she’s black (and especially if she’s black and sings). On the one hand, of course it’s great that some talented fat black actresses are getting work. On the other hand, these actresses are often typecast as sassy, strong-willed types.

I’d rather see fat black women cast in the wide variety of roles white thin men are cast in — when, for example, will we see a fat black female captain of a starship, playing gravitas instead of sass?

ETA: And also, what’s with the kid in the wheelchair? Is it even a speaking role? If it is, you’d never know it from this preview.

It seems to me I’ve seen this a few times — the character of the high school loser in a wheelchair, whose primary narrative purpose — other than being an icon of loserness — is to establish the evilness of the people who reject the kid in the wheelchair, and/or to establish the openminded goodness of the thin, good-looking protagonists who befriend wheelchair loser. (Examples: Heathers, Adams Family Values, Wicked.)1

Diversity consists of real parts, not just tokenism. Given how very rare characters in wheelchairs are, it’s a shame that a high proportion are done badly.

And why are the thin, able bodied, pretty, white people always the leads? It’s like, it’s okay to have a bit of diversity in a friend group, so long as we remember who’s really important.

(Via Roz Kaveney — congrats on the agent, Roz! — and a hip tip-with-a-quip ripped from the lip of Kip.)

1. At least the part in Wicked is a speaking, and singing, part, and there’s a bit more to the character. But I want to vomit every time I hear the able-bodied guy blow the wheelchair girl’s mind by suggesting that she can dance — it’s played as if she’s spent her entire life waiting for some able-bodied guy to legitimize her by finding her attractive. As if no one in a wheelchair ever knew that she could dance before the ablebodied came along to let them know.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ange permalink
    September 12, 2009 8:52 pm

    There are many problematic tropes to pick from! Where to start? The sassy fat black girl is just so disheartening and incredibly lazy. With the conscious changing and Malia and Sasha Obama being very visible faces of black female adolescence, why their experiences are left out and this sad trope is unversalized is just fucked up.

  2. MaryTodd permalink
    November 18, 2010 3:46 am

    Why do the producers and casting directors of the hit show ‘Glee’ insist on ALWAYS presenting Black women and girls as FAT, LOUD, OBNOXIOUS, UNATTRACTIVE, IGNORANT, GHETTO, etc.?

    On tonight’s episode (‘The Substitute’), for instance, they presented “beautiful, petite, blonde” Gwyneth Paltrow getting beaten-up (in an unprovoked attack) by a FAT, UGLY, LOUD Black girl (who, of course, “had an attitude” about nothing).

    There was NO REASON for them to present this crude image of Black teen-girls (other than to reinforce the stereotype of the ugly, violent, loud Black).

    The producers, writers and casting directors of this episode should be ashamed of themselves and the Black actress who took on this moronic role should hold her head down in shame.

    This presentation of the Black teen girls was both offensive and pathetic in my opinion (and I AM NOT EVEN a BLACK person).

    [NOTE:
    This criticism does NOT include plus-sized actress, Amber Riley (a regular cast-member of the show) -- who has managed to present herself as both an attractive and a dignified character on the episodes I have seen ... unlike all of those other Black actresses who have appeared on the show in 'guest' roles.]

  3. January 20, 2011 6:19 pm

    Don’t you have to wonder if the stereotypes aren’t intentional? I think every single person who has written about the stereotypes being bothersome is right… but I think that is the purpose. I don’t think the stereotypes are incidental casting made by socially unaware and racist producers. Rather, I think the entire cast and show itself is written specifically to highlight just how cruel and prevalent our stereotypes of people are. They keep us from befriending people, they cause us to treat people differently, they make us want to be friends with terrible people because they’re “cool” and avoid amazing people because they don’t do much for our reputations. And the brilliance of it all is that the writers do it by making us laugh, cry, and sing along with it all. If you laugh at someone else’s stereotype and then get offended by your own stereotype…. then maybe you’ll start to see the bigger picture (whether you want to or not YOU stereotype just as much as the next person does). The typecasts in this show are so blatant that it seems clear that the writers are mocking the stereotypes rather than trying to affirm them. Maybe the problem is that the show’s audience isn’t even socially aware enough to catch on.

  4. Pollypureheart permalink
    January 26, 2011 9:03 pm

    @KC
    I think that is not only a CROCK but a major cop-out the producers of this and every movie or tv show where you see characters like this know damn good and well what they are doing. And it’s not just the show either every time one of those ‘Glee’ pissants is on a magazine cover it’s always the SAME[i.e. white]people. I wonder if little miss ‘fight the good fight’ Jane Lynch gives a shit that her overprivileged ass is reaping many benefits that others don’t get while she whines incessantly about being ‘discriminated’ against for being gay. Hag please!!

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