Mar 29 2010

I Hate to Say It, But Howard Stern Was Right

Published by at 2:50 pm under Editorials,Movies

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By now, you’ve probably heard the comments Howard Stern made about Precious star Gabourey Sidibe and the praise she received from Oprah Winfrey.  Essentially, Stern said that Sidibe – despite her recent Academy Award nomination – would not be appearing in movies in the future because of her obesity.  Stern also criticized Oprah, calling her a “filthy liar” for telling Sidibe that she has a bright career in acting ahead of her.  Being that this is Howard Stern, his comments were pretty colorful and frank, and of course many people have rushed to attack him and defend Sidibe.  The thing is – and this is more of an indictment on Hollywood than it is on Sidibe’s weight or acting talent – Howard Stern is absolutely correct.

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Whether or not Sidibe was deserving of her nomination for Best Actress is largely irrelevant with regard to Stern’s comments.  Sure, Precious was Oscar-bait, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the better films of 2009.  And as I’ve written before, Mo’Nique’s performance was incredible.  As for Sidibe, I thought she was fine, but I also didn’t think she was anything special. Certainly, her performance didn’t make the movie, but the fact remains that she will likely be remembered more for her size than for how she portrayed Precious on screen.  Regardless of how you rate Sidibe’s performance, though, it’s difficult to deny that she’d be well-cast in future roles, particularly those of a protagonist.  There are only so many leading roles that call for a morbidly obese actress.  I’m not trying to pick on Sidibe, but her overwhelming size will undoubtedly prevent her from playing the lead in future films.

And again, this really has nothing to do with her ability as an actress.  The fact is, for better or for worse, people enjoy watching people like Jessica Alba and Scarlett Johansson no matter what those actresses are doing.  It’s the same reason that guys like Paul Walker can still find work – audiences enjoy looking at good-looking people on screen.  That’s not to say that odd-looking actors and actresses can’t be successful, but Sidibe is hardly odd-looking; her weight is impossible to ignore.  Sidibe will likely find work doing cameo appearances or even in recurring roles in which she’s not the lead- she’s just been cast as a student in the upcoming Showtime series “Big C” – but I think it’s safe to say that she’s peaked with her performance in Precious.

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Of course, this is where Stern’s condemnation of Oprah stems from.  I’d be willing to bet anything that Sidibe will never be nominated for Best Actress again, and like I’ve stated above, it has nothing to do with her ability as an actress.  Because Sidibe is unlikely to star in future films of any sort, Oprah’s telling Sidibe that her Oscar nomination was just the beginning for her was somewhat disingenuous.  Sidibe isn’t the next Kate Winslet, and she’s far from Carey Mulligan, too.  To get her hopes up like Oprah did is nothing more than a white lie that will serve only to set Sidibe up for disappointment in the future.  I don’t think Oprah is naive enough to believe that Sidibe has a long, prosperous career as an actress in front of her and so, regardless of her intentions, Oprah’s motivational praise will end up doing more harm than good in the long run.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call her a “filthy liar” like Stern did, but I do understand and agree with his general sentiment.

Of course, I haven’t even yet mentioned that Sidibe’s weight is bound to cause major health problems for her in the future.  If she’s diabetic and has heart conditions, the roles she manages to land won’t matter one bit.  We’re not talking about a heavy girl here; this is someone who is obese to the point that it may be life-threatening.

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Sidibe could lose hundreds of pounds and prove me wrong, but I don’t think that’s very likely.  I’m also pretty confident that due to the nature of Hollywood and movie-going audiences, she’s going to have a real hard time finding significant roles in the future.  Throw in the fact that there really aren’t too many morbidly obese protagonists (Can you name more than two?  I bet you can’t.) and that Sidibe is a walking health risk, Howard Stern was absolutely correct in stating that Sidibe’s career has peaked and will be forgotten soon enough.  Again, I’m not trying to pick on Sidibe – I hope that I’m wrong about all of this – but based on the aesthetic preferences of the general public, I have no choice but to agree with Howard Stern.  He may be an a**hole, but he’s also incredibly in touch with how people think.





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19 responses so far

  • Justin Bailey

    Yeah. Her chances are about as good as the odds that you’ll one day write credible opinion articles for a recognized publication. Good eye. Here’s to hoping for the both of you.

  • chrystani

    Lets not even throw in the fact that black women (of ANY size) don’t really get Oscar worthy roles anyway…

    Like… I get what Howard Stern said… But he said that shit evil. But thats how Howard Stern makes his money.

    Like how many roles has Oprah acted in that got her nominated for an Oscar…. 1. And in that role she was overweight…

    No real roles since…

    And for the curious… I am a black woman and I read UnReality everyday…

  • 88mph

    in response to chrystani referring to how black people are treated as well as Howard Stern being evil:

    It should be noted that Howard Stern did not start that conversation. Robyn, the black woman on his show, started talking about how Sidibe would not find work. However, being Howard’s show, he continued with the thought and gave it the full explanation.

    Howard Stern never once spoke cruelly about Sidibe. If anyone was spoken poorly about, it was Oprah. The comments made by Oprah are exactly the type of thing that leads to people going on American Idol and finding out they aren’t cut out for mass appeal. Then they breakdown and the person who is honest with them, Simon, is considered an A-hole.

    Sidibe deserves a career, but the American public won’t give it so the studios won’t offer her roles. Hollywood is not some evil empire. If people like Sidibe were bankable, there’d be more roles, but they aren’t because the American public won’t pay.

    And as for roles for black women, i think that is only partially the case. It’s not so much as there aren’t roles for black women as there just aren’t roles for women in general. There are very few character types for women.

  • http://nerdaverse.com theButterFly

    They could remake “Gone with the Wind”.

    I’ve not seen “Precious”, so I can’t comment as to if I think she has the acting chops to justify Oprah’s praise, and I understand where it comes from. It is good that Oprah is encouraging her, but it does place unfair expectations for her, and does betray a very grave misunderstanding of the current Hollywood culture. That is not to say that opportunities do not exist out there for larger women of African-American descent, and you could argue that historically an over weight African-American woman would actually have a better chance at finding a career then a similarly proportioned Caucasian. You can look at actresses such as Nell Carter, Queen Latifa, Monique and Hattie McDaniel as evidence of fuller figured African-American women who have found acting success. I do find it curious, that when you consider issues of weight that it is actually one area where African-American entertainers (even men) actually appear to have an advantage over Caucasian performers of similar proportions. Why are we more accepting of over weight African-American performers?

  • Bert

    It’s interesting how an issue like this can bring up all kinds of issues with mainstream media, pop culture, and the general perception/intelligence of the average media-consuming public in the internet age. Beyond the issue of overweight actresses, the facetiousness of Hollywood studios, and the portrayal of (and opportunities for) African-American actresses, there is another issue at the forefront here – the distortion of the actual message Stern was trying to get across.

    Regardless of the tactfulness (or lack thereof, but come on, it IS Howard Stern) with which he made his comments, the media seems to have entirely misconstrued his thesis. Like you pointed out above, what he was really getting at is that Ms. Sidibe isn’t likely to get many starring opportunities in the future – not due to lack of talent, but due to lack of roles she would be considered for. He wasn’t trying to make digs at her weight, or criticize her acting ability, but that’s how it seems to be perceived.

    Is the media so knee-jerk, ignorant, or just plain stupid to present the real issue Stern so (un)elegantly addressed? I don’t think so. I think this is a deliberate, antagonistic skewing of Stern’s comments meant to portray him as directly insulting a young, black, overweight celebrity who has won a lot of goodwill recently, and reap the extra readership that will bring. To hell with the valid underlying issues that Stern was trying to raise, let’s go for the lowest common denominator!

  • chrystani

    @88mph,

    Well I actually heard that he said , “She should just die”….

    Like OK you don’t think she will get more roles. Alright I agree… But to say she should “just die”….

    Thats evil… I get that his job is a “shock jock”, so you know…

    Whatever, people find it entertaining when a grown man tells a younger woman she should “just die”…

  • Madison

    @ TheButterfly

    The difference, though, is that Queen Latifah and Nell Carter were overweight. Or fat. Sidibe is morbidly obese. She’s much heavier than the women you mentioned.

  • Madison

    @ Bert

    Yup – nice to see you totally get what’s happened here, and what prompted me to write this column.

  • Mike

    @ chrystani

    howard never said “she should die’. in fact i don’t think he even said the following; from which i’m sure that sentence got twisted from. i’m pretty sure it was robin, but either way what they had said was that if she keeps up at that size she is going to die.

  • http://nerdaverse.com theButterFly

    @Madison

    Oh, I will totally concede the point that the level of obesity in question is certainly as you state. Ms. Sidibe certainly is in the category of morbidly obese. I don’t think that negates my point that for whatever reason, heavier women of colour do appear to fair better then equally proportioned caucasian women. I realize my comment was a bit off topic from the thrust of your article, and I thank you for enduring my aside. It is a trend that I’ve noticed and thought I would point it out in her defense. For her own sake, I do hope that Ms. Sidibe can make changes to her lifestyle that would help to improve her weight. Not for the sake of her career but for her health. She actually is a rather beautiful woman, and I certainly wish her nothing but success. A success that I feel is certainly with in her reach. (Although, in most cases heavier performers (regardless of race or gender) typically find their success in the comedy arena, and I wonder if she has the skills or desire to succeed in that type of material.)

    As far as the media reaction to Stern’s comments, I think it is unfair that he be focused upon. First off, as many have pointed out, that is what Stern does. Secondly, I do think it is not fair that his comments (which do shed a light onto one of the predominant issues facing women in Hollywood) are being taken as a discussion not of that issue but are instead being perverted away from their initial intention. (Not that I am sure Stern minds much. He’s made a career out of this, and I imagine has a pretty tough skin against this sort of thing by now.) I’ve always respected Stern’s place as a commentator on the current state of our culture.

    Great article! I love the debate it spurs.

  • chrystani

    @mike,

    O… well on articles I read about the situation. I had read that he said , “She should just die”…

    Maybe what i read was wrong. Im just quoting from articles that I read about the show.

    But yea like we’ve said, its Howards job to be lewd sooo…

    His message was correct, just put in a way that was… Hardcore…

  • frikkenkids

    I thought it was funny that I had ranted along a similar vein to some coworkers and that afternoon was when I read about Stern’s comments.

    In addition to what has already been said, I would like to add what was getting me angry – that is how many media outlets have been falling all over themselves to say how “ravishing” or “stunning” Sidibe looks whenever her picture ends up in a tabloid or a celebrity website like TMZ. She is not ravishing, she is not stunning, she is frankly morbidly obese and otherwise quite plain. It seems to me like there is a contest to be the most politically correct by kissing Sidibe’s ass every time her picture is taken. It is disingenuous to lavish praise on her because she is a minor celebrity while an anonymous morbidly obese woman wouldn’t receive quite the same praise (to say the least).

  • Cheryl

    I haven’t seen Precious but I’ve read my fair share of reviews and they agree that her performance was OK…just OK…she’s a first time actor – given pretty heavy subject matter so on and so forth but *shrugs* she’s not mind blowing or anything (unlike Mo’Nique).

    Any future roles she has people are going to be stuck on her weight. They’re gonna wanna see her as comic relief, maybe the sassy friend to some modelesque looking people. She’s also be limited for roles if they required any physical activity. I’m not saying all the thin Hollywood actresses are peak atheletes but it’s a heck of a lot easier to train them over a period of a few months to be able to run, jump or perform a certain sport where she just can’t. She seems like a very nice person and good for her for having self-esteem but yah, Oprah was in the wrong. We’re not gonna see much of her anymore.

    Also, being that I’m from Canada and don’t get Howard Stern I find Robyn even bringing this issue up to be kinda bitchy. She obviously knows Hoawrd is gonna say something mean and cruel and maybe she just did it to boost her own low self worth – I doubt she’s very concerned about the health challenges facing that young woman and shouldn’t be given a free pass just because they’re both black women.

    Signed, a fat Canadian woman =)

  • Ellie

    It’s a double edged sword. If she doesn’t lose weight then she might die and she also might not get work. But, if she does lose the weight she also might not get work because people won’t recognize her. Just think Jennifer Grey.

  • ChanceofFleurys

    wait, so how many of you actually saw the film AND heard sterns broadcast? i cant find any fault in sterns or unrealitys argument. well written piece.

  • Jeff

    Also complicating matters is the fact that Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence have the market cornered on overweight black female characters.

  • Bert

    @ Madison – it’s just nice to visit a blog where people are capable of complex thought. Maybe it comes from years of deciphering sci-fi and video game plots?

  • JimC

    OF COURSE Stern was right. And Oprah made an ass out of herself trying to say otherwise.

    She’ll probably guest star on some generic lawyer show on TV, do a lifetime movie about being a fatty and never be heard from again.

  • Shalea del Villar

    Just look at all this bullshit. It’s 2013 now and don’t you all feel like assholes now that Gabourey Sidibe has made a name for herself outside of Precious? The only reason you couldn’t appreciate her performance was because the only thing you were thinking was “fat black bitch” you half-witted racist fatphobes

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