Ever since Gabourey Sidibe made her acting debut as Precious in the Academy Award-nominated film of the same name, her size has been a consistent topic of conversation. And if you ever wondered, it has also played a big part in the types of roles and characters she’s been offered over the years.
Roles following that opportunity were often small (she was great in Yelling to the Sky though), including Caribbean housekeeper Odessa in Tower Heist and literally the same type of character, this time a South African housekeeper, in The Brothers Grimsby. But there have also been some more positive and colorful roles, including Queenie/Regina Ross in multiple seasons of FX’s hit American Horror Story, Andrea on Showtime’s The Big C, Denise on Hulu’s Difficult People, and, of course, Becky on Fox’s Empire.
She is one who can admit that it’s been a rollercoaster, as it is for many Black actresses in Hollywood. But her process to find the right work is especially difficult considering that some screenwriters put a lot of negative emphasis on her size in the characters they put together for her.
“I get a lot of scripts and offers where someone has to make mention of my body immediately,” Sidibe said when speaking at Glamour’s Powered by Women initiative panel at SXSW this past weekend. The title of the panel’s conversation was “The Female Lens: Creating Change Beyond the Bubble,” and it was documented by People.com. “Someone wrote a script with me in mind and the first time someone other than my character was talking about my character, they say ‘this hippo’’or ‘this elephant.'”
She continued, “I’m like, ‘Are you serious? You wrote something for me and you’re calling me a hippo.’ This is my body. This has been my body my entire life, and in my life my friends and my colleagues are not constantly talking about my body. But in most of my roles, somebody has to make mention of it.”
As for the way a lot of writers in Hollywood portray Black women, Sidibe isn’t crazy about that either.
“I have had to read plenty of lines and words for my black a– that was written by a white man,” she said. “Not to say that it is not good. There is a lot that you don’t know, really. Depending on the work, I have had to check the honesty and cater it to me as a black woman. It is the actor’s job to honesty-check it.”
She continued, “Yes, I will pull out my black card and slap someone in the face with it.”
Image via Instagram