The Venice Film Festival is pretty much exclusively associated with all *that* Don’t Worry Darling BTS tea right now (and for good reason), but can we take a moment to appreciate Brendan Fraser and what his comeback to stardom actually means for him, despite The Whale‘s fatphobia?
As someone born in the late nineties, I grew up watching Fraser in The Mummy. In fact, I watched all three films in that franchise probably every week for the first ten years of my life.
Other notable movies of his I was obsessed with were George of the Jungle (1997), Inkheart (2008) and Journey to the Centre of the Earth (2008), to name a few. Older 90s babies would love him from Airheads (1994) or his break-out film Encino Man (1992).
After the early 2000s, Brendan Fraser’s heartthrob status tapered out of existence. Kind of. He had a few roles here and there, but his upward trajectory as a rising star swerved to a halting stop. He was poised as the next big thing, and then he wasn’t. In 2018, he revealed why.
In an interview with GQ, during the peak of the the #MeToo movement, Brendan Fraser revealed he had been sexually assaulted in 2003 by the president of The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Phillip Berk (who denied it and called Fraser’s allegations a “fabrication”). Fraser spoke out about it and asked for an apology, which he ended up getting. He was rarely invited to back to the Globes after that fateful year, and he thinks he may have been blacklisted.
After his star status faded, Brendan Fraser became known to be a bit of a tragic figure. His mother died of cancer, he went through a divorce, and he gained weight — something people relished in gossiping about because he was once Hollywood’s hottest hunk.
Now, in 2022, he’s back in the spotlight.
If you know anything about Brendan Fraser’s personal life and what happened to his career, then you should be cheering for this man. What a beautiful moment that’s is well deserved. The beginning of something special. https://t.co/obfjKeXNjG— Giovanni Lago (@TheGiovanniLago) September 4, 2022
Fraser received a six-minute standing ovation for his performance in The Whale, a film where he stars as Charlie: a reclusive English teacher living with “severe obesity” who tries to rekindle a relationship with his estranged teenage daughter.
It’s a triumphant comeback for a man who found himself kicked out of the film industry for taking a stand against sexual assault. The footage of the standing ovation shows him sobbing, overwhelmed with such a positive response.
brendan fraser was sexually assaulted by a hollywood executive, blacklisted from most major motion pictures for almost 2 decades, and comes back from his struggle to a 6-minute standing ovation in his honor tonight. what a fucking champion— luca 🔜#TIFF22 (@shehateluca) September 4, 2022
For the first time in a long time, he is being talked about because he’s talented and knows his craft, rather than people speculating about what happened to make the once-great Brendan Fraser so tragic (because being fat is tragic, apparently).
Of course, if we’re going to talk about the fatphobia around Brendan Fraser, we also have to talk about the controversy surrounding the film he starred in.
Brendan Fraser was put in a digital fat suit for The Whale, bulked up with CGI and prosthetics which led to criticisms about the film industry never actually casting fat people to play fat people.
But more than an identity politics conversation, the discourse around this movie centres on the fact that it is yet another film that stereotypes fat people as sloppy, tragic, doomed figures who are pitied by everyone else.
Fraser spoke to The Guardian about the role and said playing Charlie made him realise how “strong” people living with obesity are. His quotes were actually pretty lovely, but let’s be real: part of the reason Fraser’s performance is so profound to the public audience is because he makes a fat person seem human. A feat indeed!
A "body," by the way, that the lead actor took off at the end of the day! Because heaven forbid we see the actual nuances of an actual human with a body society hates and judges, played by an actor who lives in that body. NoooOOOOooooo it's the transformation that matters most— @PiaGlenn (@PiaGlenn) September 5, 2022
Does Hollywood ever have “severely obese” characters who are happy and successful, where their body is not a key part of the plot? No. Fatness is synonymous with misery, depression and loneliness, and there’s only so many movies about this we should have to tolerate.
Critics have already come out and used disgusting language to dehumanise Charlie and it’s a gross display of what people actually think of fat people. Shockingly, fat people have personalities and can be kind and interesting! There’s no way we could have ever known this without fatphobic movies because we clearly have never spoken to a fat person!
TBH, the worst thing about THE WHALE is going to be the way people write and talk about fat people when this movie comes out.— Mallory Yu (@mallory_yu) September 5, 2022
Case in point: screenshots from Variety's appallingly fatphobic review: pic.twitter.com/EhClaxCPN6
It’s horrible and people are right to boycott the film, but I think there’s room for nuance regarding Brendan’s place in it.
Hey, everyone, I know it sounds hard, but I promise that if you are willing to put in a few minutes of your time, you will be able to hold both "Brendan Fraser deserves the world" and "The Whale is unapologetically fatphobic and deserves to be critiqued for that" in your heart.— Amy 🔜 D23 | pro mask, pro abortion (@spooloflies) September 5, 2022
Fraser himself has had to deal with fatphobia in his career — though obviously not to the extent of people who are bigger than him. We’ve all seen the nasty before-and-after comparisons of his body online. As someone who was often cast in born sexy yesterday roles, his star quality dimmed the moment he wasn’t a walking fuckmachine.
I think we can reach a point in our discussion where we can agree The Whale is unequivocally problematic in its depiction of fat people and should be called out for it, while also acknowledging the impact of Brendan Fraser’s comeback in regards to overcoming sexual assault in a workplace.
He deserves this win, he deserves accolades and oscars and support and a six-minute standing ovation. He deserves to be recognised for overcoming rape culture in Hollywood and coming out successful anyway. And the film he has starred in is cruel. Two things are true, and we shouldn’t lose sight of one when discussing the other.