“The Whale” director Darren Aronofosky has shed critics who say his critically acclaimed film promotes “fatphobia.”
At the center of the controversy is a fat suit worn by star Brendan Fraser, 54, who plays a 600-pound English teacher named Charlie as he struggles to repair his relationship with his estranged teenage daughter, portrayed by Sadie Sink.
Aronofsky, 53, reportedly told Yahoo! Entertainment he hadn’t anticipated the criticism when he cast Fraser, and defended his use of prosthetic pounds — saying that “actors have been using makeup since the beginning of acting.”
“The lengths we went to to portray the realism of the makeup has never been done before,” Aronofsky said. “One of my first calls after casting Brendan was to my makeup artist, Adrien Morot. I asked him, ‘Can we do something that’s realistic?’ Because if it’s going to look like a joke, then we shouldn’t do it.”
Fraser’s transformation sparked backlash during previews in the fall, with independent film critic Katie Rife advising plus-sized viewers — and even those with a thinner frame — not to watch the film.
“I can’t recommend in good conscience that fat people watch ‘The Whale,’ ” Rife tweeted in September. “I can’t recommend that skinny people watch it either, since it reinforces the notion that fat people are objects of pity who have brought their suffering upon themselves through lack of coping skills.”
Aronofosky further noted in his recent rebuttal that Charlie is a versatile character who doesn’t fall into typical stereotypes.
“People with obesity are generally written as bad guys or as punchlines,” the Oscar-nominated directed continued. “We wanted to create a fully worked-out character who has bad parts about him and good parts about him; Charlie is very selfish, but he’s also full of love and is seeking forgiveness.”
“So [the controversy] makes no sense to me. Brendan Fraser is the right actor to play this role, and the film is an exercise in empathy,” Aronofosky said.
Fraser echoed his director during the live panel, saying Charlie is a “well-rounded character” who “is not the person he presents,” and that audiences shouldn’t be so quick to judge.
“He’s not the person who we so often dismiss,” Fraser said, alluding to our culture’s demonization of people living with extreme obesity. “He’s a man who lives with obesity, but he’s also a father and he’s also a teacher. He’s someone who can bring out the best in others even when they can’t see that in themselves. Tragically, he can’t do that for himself.
“The empathy that I think we all felt shooting this movie and telling Sam Hunter’s story is something that’s intensely personal to all of us,” said Fraser, whose performance prompted standing ovations at various film festivals this year, including in Venice, London and Toronto, and hailed as a comeback for the actor.
He’s also received a Golden Globe nomination for the role, written by playwright Samuel D. Hunter in 2012. Before its big-screen adaptation, the off-Broadway production of “The Whale” had won two dramatic awards.
This story originally appeared on NY Post