Why Everyone Should Know Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe

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Last night, I took a break from my homework and read New York Magazine. When I hit page 77, I was surprised to see a stunning black and white photo of a large black women gracing the page. I thought Mo'Nique was looking good. Then I realized that it wasn't Mo'Nique, but Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, Mo'Nique's co-star in the movie Precious.

The article by Tim Murphy went on to describe Sidibe's experience on the movie set, which was grueling. (The film is based on Sapphire's graphic book about abuse, Push, of which I have read excerpts, and I cannot imagine what it would be like to watch this film let alone make it, but it is winning accolades at film festivals. (In May, Siditty compared the book and the film trailer, and judged both to have merits, even if they differed slightly.) Sidibe and others also weighed in on her body. I felt the tone of the story was caught between wanting to admire this woman whose confidence almost verges into the obnoxious, and incredulity that a fat woman could be happy, desirable, and successful. Still, Sidibe's awareness of media manipulation and her insistence on taking control is inspiring:

To play Precious, she had to unwork all her confidence, and speak lower, slower, and gutturally. Only in the fantasy sequences”—when Precious dissociates from rape and abuse by thinking about runways and red carpets—“do you see who Sidibe is, bubbly and giggly.”

Which, according to Sidibe, is miles from how she’s been portrayed in the press so far. “They try to paint the picture that I was this downtrodden, ugly girl who was unpopular in school and in life, and then I got this role and now I’m awesome,” says the actress. “But the truth is that I’ve been awesome, and then I got this role.”

I love that she says she was awesome before Hollywood came around. Love, love, love it. I wish more girls and young women had that kind of confidence. What's not so cool is how the director described his impression of her audition tape and how the reporter explains the process:

[Director Lee] Daniels, who saw hundreds of audition tapes from across the country (350-pound actresses don’t grow on trees), was blown away by Sidibe. “She is unequivocally comfortable in her body, in a very bizarre way. Either she’s in a state of denial or she’s so elevated that she’s on another level,” he says. “I had no doubt in my mind that she had four or five boyfriends, easily.”

She's in a state of denial because she likes herself as she is? Fat actresses don't "grow on trees?" I'd love to avoid these types of stereotypes in an article about a fat woman who is confident in herself and her abilities. And perhaps there is a dearth of large actresses because there aren't exactly a lot of roles out there for them, so they pursue other lines of work. (And here I am thinking a little tangentially to Julie and Julia, in which author Julie Powell, who wrote so eloquently about her struggles with PCOS and her weight, was played by Amy Adams, who is stick thin; or the new Bridget Jones movie, in which skinny actress Renee Zellweger will don a fat suit...)

Despite the skepticism about fat actresses, mo pie at big fat deal is excited about both Gabby Sidibe and the film:

I’m giving Gabby Sidibe her own category because I don’t want to be caught unawares when she’s walking down the red carpet on Oscar night and we need to post about how hot she looks and/or what insane thing she’s wearing... I won’t lie–I’m kind of nervous to see Precious, because it is clearly not an easy movie to experience. But I’m thrilled to see actresses like Sidibe and Mo’Nique getting recognition for this project, and I have no doubt that it’s an outstanding film.

NY Film Festival screening of 'Precious' in NYC

Not only can Sidibe act, she can also sing. Her mother is infamous as an R&B performer in the subway, and the daughter inherited her singing chops. Although Daniels initial reaction to Sidibe was less than stellar in terms of body image, he is eager to cast her in a musical, a la Rizzo from Grease. Until that happens, Sidibe will be appearing in a Sundance Lab film, Yelling to the Sky with Don Cheadle. Rock on!

Still, Sidibe explained that she felt enormous pressure about her weight not only from the media, but from friends and family. An aunt offered to send her on a cruise if she's lost 50 pounds. A friend told her that she should stop eating things that are "disgusting" because designers would not make dresses for fat women. Sidibe's response:

"I learned to love myself, because I sleep with myself every night and I wake up with myself every morning, and if I don’t like myself, there’s no reason to even live the life. I love the way I look. I’m fine with it. And if my body changes, I’ll be fine with that.”

At 26 years old, this woman has it figured out better than a lot of people. I hope that as her star rises (and hopefully it will), she can retain the positive feelings she has about who she is, and I also hope that she doesn't fall into the ego trap of so many other famous people. (The article, incidentally, ends with her telling a guy who blew her off that, "I'm not a regular girl. I just got off a plane from France.") Nope - Gabourey Sidibe is not a regular girl, but trips to France have nothing to do with that.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. She is also the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track, a guide to unusual things to see and do in NYC. Catch her on Wed. Oct 7 from 6-7 pm on Seven Second Delay on WFMU.

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