Cartoon: Fat Suits in Movies


If you like these cartoons, then if you support them you’ll get a warm glow of well-being, fizzling outward from your brain until you can feel it tingling in your toes, and then you’ll feel really confident and cheerful about talking to strangers and then you’ll decide to go out dancing and wait no that’s not supporting my cartoons that’s just being on drugs never mind.


I went back and forth on if the actor in this strip should be female or male. Either way seemed to be too specific. Then I remembered that in Doonesbury – especially in older strips – Garry Trudeau would sometimes draw strips that were four panels of nothing but Mike Doonesbury in an armchair and watching a TV. Because readers saw the TV from the side, we didn’t actually see what was on the TV screen – which somehow made it funnier,

Never let it be said that I hesitate to swipe from my betters.

(I always find it disturbing how close Mike sits to the TV in those old strips. You’re gonna destroy your eyes, Mike!)

(Of course, nowadays we all sit that closer or closer to our computer and tablet screens.)

I also decided to swipe Trudeau’s signature small smile appearing on the character’s face in the fourth panel. Having the character only react in the final panel encourages readers to see the character as a stand-in for themselves, sharing their amusement – or at least, that’s how I interpret it.

And what the heck, I stuck a framed picture of Zonker Harris, one of the Doonesbury characters, on the wall.

(I love Doonesbury, by the way. Very few cartoonists match Garry Trudeau’s record of being consistently funny and good for fifty years. Half of everything I knew about politics in the 70s and 80s, I learned from reading Doonesbury.)


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows a woman at her kitchen sink. Although each panel shows the same scene, each panel is shown from a slightly different angle, which would have required redrawing the perspective every panel. Gosh, that probably was a whole bunch of work by the cartoonist. I’m just saying that as a neutral observation from an objective observer, it’s not like these transcripts are written by the cartoonist himself. Cough. Cough.

The woman is fat, and is wearing blue jeans and a pink tee shirt that shows a planet sticking its tongue out on the back, and has the words “don’t panic” written in large friendly letters on the front. Her orange hair is in a messy bun.

On the countertop next to her is an open laptop, and throughout the cartoon the voices we hear are coming from the laptop. The laptop is positioned with the screen facing away from the “camera,” so we can’t see what’s on the screen.

PANEL 1

The woman is washing a dish over the kitchen sink. Voices are coming from her laptop, but she doesn’t appear to be paying attention.

VOICE 1 – TV HOST: You’ve been on People’s “hottest celebs” list six times… but in your new movie, you wear a fat suit! It’s a ”huge” transformation!

VOICE 2 – CELEB: Ha ha! It was quite a learning experience.

PANEL 2

The woman continues to wash dishes, but glances at the laptop screen.

TV HOST: Interesting! Can you tell us some things you learned?

CELEB: First, it’s disturbing to play a part designed to let audiences enjoy being grossed out by “my” body.

PANEL 3

A close up of the laptop on the counter.

CELEB: Second, I learned it’s exploitative to wear a marginalized person’s body as a costume. And I learned there are plenty of fat actors who’d love this opportunity but weren’t given a shot.

PANEL 4

The woman has stopped washing dishes and is leaning against the counter and watching the laptop screen. She looks amused.

CELEB: Finally, I learned that no one should see this stupid movie. Excuse me, my manager appears to be having a coronary.


This cartoon on Patreon

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Fat, fat and more fat. Bookmark the permalink. 

19 Responses to Cartoon: Fat Suits in Movies

  1. 1
    bcb says:

    CELEB: Second, I learned it’s exploitative to wear a marginalized person’s body as a costume. And I learned there are plenty of fat actors who’d love this opportunity but weren’t given a shot.

    I love this comic, but I hate that one of my first thoughts upon reading this line is “how will the transphobes twist this line into a bad-faith argument for why trans people are bad?”

  2. 2
    RandomTroll says:

    Quibble…
    ya didn’t have enough Zonk out to be noticeable.

    Found him after I read yer commentary.

  3. 3
    annqueue says:

    Love the banana logo on the laptop.

  4. 4
    Ampersand says:

    Quibble…
    ya didn’t have enough Zonk out to be noticeable.

    Not even in panel 4?

  5. 5
    Nelson says:

    The last fat suit I saw in a movie was quite recent. Colin Farrell spent hours in a makeup chair to transform into an overweight Italian man (the Penguin).

    Not only was he made fat, but he was given southern European features and he used a thick “gangster” accent.

  6. 6
    Dreidel says:

    So what’s wrong with a famous movie star wearing a fat suit, like Eddie Murphy did in that old movie years ago? Do you seriously think such movies would be successful without the big-name stars to attract an audience?

    Movies are expensive business efforts that are expected to turn a profit, not be opportunity night for some unknown [name your disability] actor being “given a shot.”

  7. 7
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Dreidel @6 – You’re talking as if Barry isn’t part of the same public that comprises the audience. Sure, movies are commercial, and decisions are based – in significant part, at least – on the bottom line. But if the choice is between the movies not being made and a fat suit being used, maybe the better choice is that they’re not made? People are allowed to comment on what type of movie they want to see.

    Also, I’m pretty sure that the inciting incident for this comic is the recent movie The Whale starring Brendan Fraser. That is not a blockbuster, it’s an arthouse film, and while Brendan Fraser is a known name he’s nowhere near the type of star that Eddie Murphy is. Aronofsky could have hired an actor with the same body type as the character without losing much market traction. Or if he really wanted to work with Fraser, he could have written a different role for him.

    All that said, I have a different issue with the cartoon that is somewhat related to yours – the onus of representation shouldn’t be on the actor. With few exceptions, actors don’t have the ability to control who gets cast, and they shouldn’t be put in the position of having to reject work because they’ve been miscast for it. The onus should be on directors, casting agents, and studios/producers.

  8. 8
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    I mean, Dreidel is asking what’s wrong with blackface, right?

  9. 9
    Ampersand says:

    All that said, I have a different issue with the cartoon that is somewhat related to yours – the onus of representation shouldn’t be on the actor. With few exceptions, actors don’t have the ability to control who gets cast, and they shouldn’t be put in the position of having to reject work because they’ve been miscast for it. The onus should be on directors, casting agents, and studios/producers.

    I agree with this. I think the situation in my cartoon is unlikely and unrealistic enough so that I don’t seem to be calling for actor rebellion as the correct solution – at least not by many readers – but what the heck. :-)

  10. 10
    Dreidel says:

    > “I mean, Dreidel is asking what’s wrong with blackface, right?”

    Blackface is fine as long as it’s done realistically — as in the 1961 version of “West Side Story.”

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    Rita Moreno – who is Puerto Rican, and co-starred in the 1961 movie (and also the recent remake) wouldn’t agree with you that the brownface in the 1961 WSS was fine, or done realistically.

    “[Spielberg] said, ‘Tell us what you think about “West Side Story,” tell us what you think about us doing it again, tell us what you think about the original movie,’ ” Moreno says. “And there were some people who said they were offended by some of the things they saw in the film. First of all, the makeup was kind of one color for the Hispanics, whereas Puerto Ricans are a mélange of French, Spanish Spain, Dutch and Taíno Indian, which is a copper color.”

    Moreno, who was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, and moved to New York when she was 5, resented producers’ decision to darken her skin for the original “West Side.” […] “I remember saying to my makeup man once on the original ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Why do I have to wear such dark makeup? I’m not that color,’ ” Moreno says. “And he literally said to me, ‘What, are you a racist?’ He really said that and I was so astonished that I shut up, because I didn’t know what to say to that.”

    Rita Moreno talks ‘West Side Story’ redo, praises ‘fabulous’ new Anita

  12. 12
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    Blackface is fine as long as it’s done realistically — as in the 1961 version of “West Side Story.”

    We can all agree that this is a racist opinion, right? Afaik, American society has considered blackface to be a racist thing for at least the last 40 years.

  13. 13
    Ampersand says:

    I can imagine non-racist uses of blackface – for instance, Spike Lee uses blackface to comment on racism in Bamboozled, but I wouldn’t say Bamboozled is a racist film.

    I also don’t think that Cloud Atlas – which uses makeup to have nearly all the lead actors do cross-race characters, including having white characters played by non-white actors – is racist. Although that’s not as clear cut a case as Bamboozled.

    However, these are extreme outliers. In the vast, overwhelming number of cases – including the 1961 West Side Story, a movie I love – blackface, brownface, and yellowface are racist. They’re generally used either to bolster racist stereotypes, or to be able to avoid casting non-white actors in major roles, or both.

  14. 14
    Ampersand says:

    Afaik, American society has considered blackface to be a racist thing for at least the last 40 years.

    This is definitely true. And criticism of Blackface goes back even longer – Frederick Douglas talked about how much he hates Blackface, although I don’t think the word even existed yet.

  15. 15
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Amp @13 – One thing that your comment made me think of in the context of this cartoon is Tropic Thunder, a movie that uses blackface in a non-racist way (because Robert Downey Jr. is not in blackface to portray a black man, he’s in blackface to portray a white man in blackface; and the movie uses this to comment on the racism and egotism inherent in a white actor taking a role as a black man), and at the same time features Tom Cruise in a fat suit without any overt commentary (it could be claimed that there’s supposed to be a subtle meta-narrative there, but absolutely nothing else about that movie is subtle).

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    That’s interesting. I’ve never seen Tropic Thunder, and didn’t even realize it had a fat suit character.

  17. 17
    Eytan Zweig says:

    It’s a pretty subtle fat suit, as far as that sort of thing goes – it makes Cruise look maybe 50 pounds heavier. He also has a wig that makes him look like he has male pattern baldness, and a fake beard.

    In other words, he’s basically made up to look like me.

  18. 18
    Saurs says:

    A possibly notable distinction between the Downey, Jr. and the Cruise roles are that Downey, Jr. plays within the universe of the film a white Australasian method-acting a stereotypical black American, while Tom Cruise is literally patterned after an actual, identifiable, real-world producer who is notably bald and was at the time both older and heavier than Cruise himself. The appearance of the former is obviously designed to elicit uncomfortable cringe from its audience, and perhaps function as mild meta-commentary on the casting decisions of lowbrow American filmmaking—Downey’s character is little more than actual blackface made safe for modern consumption, a rather toothless and unmoored send-up of blackface, and blackface as a metaphor for overwrought, formally trained actors slumming it.

    By contrast, Cruise’s character’s physical self is incidental* to his function in the story and, unlike Downey, Jr., Cruise will one day be old, possibly may look forward to being bald, and certainly has the ability to become fat. His appearance, as Eytan Zweig says, is not particularly outlandish, and he basically looks like Stephen Baldwin. It’s worth saying that both the role as written and the performance itself were characterized by some people as Jewface.

    *However, the credit sequence features a lithesome Cruise and he later appeared as this same character on television for an awards’s show. In both instances he performed an energetic dance number clearly designed to draw attention to the body prosthetics and padding, as though some kind of Morissette-like irony was at play. But there is no real contradiction there, nor any novelty. The fat man who moves well and performs physical comedy and/or startling acts of agility and athleticism with great aplomb is a common, fairly unremarkable phenomenon of real life and also a stock character of decent vintage, describing many beloved comedic and genre actors of stage, screen, and idiotbox, here and there and everywhere.

  19. 19
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Saurs – I don’t entirely understand what you’re trying to say by “Downey’s character is little more than actual blackface made safe for modern consumption” – that implies there is an actual demand for blackface that needs to be catered for by finding culturally acceptable ways to deploy it. I’m pretty certain that that’s not the case – no one was thinking “we want to deliver blackface, let’s write this narrative about an entitled actor to justify it”. They wanted to deliver a satire about actors – which is what the whole movie is – and Downey’s character is an archtype they wanted to send up. I’m not saying
    it’s a particularly well executed or effective satire, but it’s intentions are clear (partially because, as I said above, there’s zero subtlety).

    With Cruise’s character, on the other hand, the mismatch between the casting and the body type of the character is deliberately played for laughs. I don’t think the appearance is incidental to the role, in the sense that the obvious effort they took to cast cruise, disguise his appearance – but not so effectively so that the audience isn’t in on it – and give him very coarse dialogue that is uncharacteristic of Cruise’s typical characters – was a very deliberate choice. It’s not particularly important to his role in the plot, but it’s crucial to his role in the movie, which is to be a caricature. Being (somewhat) fat, in this case, is one more factor the audience is supposed to laugh at.

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