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7 November 2018

Before Rebel Wilson: a guide to romcoms featuring plus-sized female leads

Queen Latifah, Nikki Blonsky, Amy Schumer... there are plenty of examples that Wilson could have named if she had done her research.

By Dorothy Musariri

During an interview on US talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show on 31 October, Australian actress Rebel Wilson made quite the sweeping statement when she was speaking about her new film Isn’t It Romantic. The actress, best known for her role as “fat Amy” in Pitch Perfect, said she was “proud to be the first-ever plus-sized girl to be the star of a romantic comedy”.

It sparked outrage on social media and Twitter users stepped in to correct her, reminding her of plus-size actresses who had appeared as leading roles in romantic comedies.

Her new film, Isn’t it Romantic, is set to be released on 14 February 2019 and features Wilson and Liam Hemsworth as the lead characters. It tells the story of a woman named Natalie (Wilson) who hates romantic comedies, as they only ever star people smaller than herself. She falls, hits her head and then finds herself living in her own rom-com with Liam Hemsworth who falls in love with her at first sight.

Yesterday in series of tweets, Wilson addressed the issue, saying she was “deeply sorry”; she went on to name some of the actresses she had previously “neglected to show the proper respect to”.

We decided to do our own homework on the subject – and found films that are overflowing with love and comedy that also featured plus-sized women as their leads:

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In the Last Holiday, directed by Wayne Wang, Queen Latifah has a leading role as a store assistant, Georgia. She finds out she is dying and decides to use her last funds on a luxury holiday in Europe before she dies. The film ends with Georgia finding love with former co-worker Sean Williams.

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Ricki Lake, another plus-sized woman, stars as Grace in the 1989 film Babycakes, which sees Lake’s character spend her Christmas trying to start up a romance with a guy who controls the train she boards for work every day.

American Ferrera, best known for her role in US comedy drama Ugly Betty, starred in 2002’s Real Women Have Curves. The film follows Ferrera’s relationship with her mother and their work in a Los Angeles clothes factory; she ends up falling in love with a boy of a different class and ethnic background.

Nikki Blonsky appeared as a lead in the 2007 remake of the musical Hairspray, set in Baltimore, Maryland. She plays Tracy Tumblad chasing fame on a local TV show and ends up fighting racial segregation on the show. Her character has been described as “pleasantly plump”.

Comedian Amy Schumer is the leading lady in Trainwreck. Her character is a white feminist who doesn’t believe in monogamy, but her ideas later change when she meets Arron Conners (Bill Hader) and falls in love.

The film Alfie dates back to 1966, and features film icons Shelly Winter and Michael Cane. Cane is a womanizer who can’t get his act together when it comes to women and love, but ends up marrying Winter’s character, Ruby.

Although Wilson failed to do her research, she has started an interesting debate about the lack of plus-sized women in lead roles – not just in rom-coms, but in all genres. Research shows that in the US around 39.8 per cent of adults are obese with another 32.5 per cent overweight, but two-thirds of the population is still under-represented onscreen.