On October 31st Rebel Wilson went on the Ellen DeGeneres Show to promote her upcoming movie Isn’t it Romantic and said “I’m proud to be the first-ever plus sized girl to be the star of a romantic comedy.” Which was an inaccurate statement; of course Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique, Melissa McCarthy, Ricky Lake and by Hollywood standards Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding all came before Wilson and her upcoming rom com. But this sort of misstep isn’t so bad in the scheme of things, it’s what came next and how she handled it, then what happened after that and how she handled that, that’s the bit that got her PR team in a twist and may have done irreparable damage to the film’s box office.
This is what happened, after the segment aired, @huffpost tweeted Rebel’s statement and then @Halfapintdoll tweeted back around noon on Nov 1:
“I love @RebelWilson as much as the next girl, but she isn’t the first plus sized woman to play the lead in a romantic comedy. Queen Latifah and Mo’Nique have both played romcom leads.”
Rebel Wilson tweeted back around 4pm that afternoon:
"Hey girl! Yeah I of course know of these movies but it was questionable as to whether: 1. Technically those actresses were plus size when filming those movies or 2. Technically those films are catorgorized/billed as a studio rom-com with a sole lead. So there’s a slight grey area.”
Around 1pm on the same day activist/artist @Nabela uploaded a video response to Wilson, she said:
“What troubles me is that this statement erases the contribution of extremely prominent women that have made a big big mark for plus size women like Queen Latifah… “
Instead of responding to @Nabela, Wilson blocked her. And here’s where the Twitter fire started to glow. As more and more folks took to twitter to ask Wilson what she meant by “questionable” and “Whether 1- Technically those actresses were plus size” and “there’s a slight grey area”. Wilson continued to block critics who took her to task, many of them black women and other people of colour.
And then on Nov 3 Mo’Nique tweeted to Wilson: “Hey my sweet sister. Let’s please not allow this business to erase our talent with giving grey areas and technicalities. Take a moment and know the history. DON’T BE A PART OF ERASING IT. I wish you the best.”
Rebel responded to Mo’Nique of course, but kept blocking others. Within the next 48 hours the hashtag #RebelBlockedMeParty emerged and started trending, sparking articles like Black Twitter Turns Being Blocked By Actress Rebel Wilson Into A LIT Internet Cookout by Kellee Terrell and provoking changes to Twitter handles like “Clarkisha -Technically Plus Sized- Kent” who also wrote a series of articles culminating in Clarkisha Explains: You Can’t Block The Truth, Rebel - On Whiteness and Public Apologies in Age of Social Media.
Rebel Wilson unequivocally pissed off the black, fat, queer literary, blerd and pop culture community of America. Many allies threw down too. The #RebelBlockedMeParty thread is quite remarkable; it’s laugh out loud funny, outrageous and eloquent. Watching from the sidelines I couldn’t help but wonder what could happen next.
This week Wilson has apologised for her missteps. "In a couple of well-intentioned moments, hoping to lift my fellow plus sized women up, I neglected to show the proper respect to those who climbed this mountain before me like Mo'Nique, Queen Latifah, Melissa McCarthy, Ricki Lake and likely many others,” she wrote in a series of tweets. “With the help of some very compassionate and well-thought out responses from others on social media, I now realize what I said was not only wrong but also incredibly hurtful.”
She’s even unblocked some of the more prominent folks on Twitter like Kent, but whether her apology is enough still remains to be seen.
What Rebel Wilson seems so desperately unaware of is the intersectionality of fat, race and gender. Her comments struck a poisonous chord at the heart of people, yes fat black femmes like myself, who want to love every fat woman and every black woman in the movies because we all know how hard it is to get there and maintain. Yet we are also aware of the heart-break when one does not see the other. When black women fat shame or when fat white women double down on issues of race and erasure, it’s the worst.
In the current climate, I’m just not sure how may more chances people who aren’t willing to grow their consciousness and awareness are going to get. That’s the power of underground rising up.
In the wise words of @Clarkisha -Technically Plus Sized- Kent:
“…it’s not just Twitter.” It’s actually what could be the difference between your project making tons of money at the box office or it making three dollars. It could also be the difference between, like with Rebel Wilson, a small PR hiccup or a full-scale PR nightmare that ends up totally eclipsing the premiere of the trailer of your new movie.”