Plus-size actresses finally get leading roles in movies and TV

Aidy Bryant, above, plays Annie in the new Hulu series ‘Shrill’, which is adapted from the best-selling autobiography of Lindy West. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 17 March 2019
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Plus-size actresses finally get leading roles in movies and TV

  • ‘Shrill’ is the latest example of studios willing to depart from the tried and tested formula of slender leading ladies
  • The progress is more marked for women than it is for men, who struggle to find leading roles outside of comedic performance

NEW YORK: Long relegated to providing comic relief or playing supporting parts, plus-size actresses are finally getting their due with juicy front-and-center roles in a sign of shifting attitudes toward diverse body types.
New Hulu series “Shrill,” which debuted Friday and is adapted from the best-selling autobiography of Lindy West, is the latest example of studios willing to depart from the tried and tested formula of slender leading ladies who have dominated the small screen since its creation.
To be sure, curvy actresses like the Oscar-winning Octavia Spencer and Mo’Nique, or hip-hop icon Queen Latifah, blazed an early trail starting more than decade back with a string of starring film and television roles.
In more recent years, Chrissy Metz has gotten attention for “This Is Us,” Danielle Macdonald starred in the Netflix movie “Dumplin’,” while in cinema, Rebel Wilson (“Pitch Perfect”) and Melissa McCarthy (“Spy,” “Ghostbusters”) have made themselves regular fixtures.
“I think the American public, and probably the public in general, is not used to seeing fat women on TV,” Aidy Bryant, the star of “Shrill” who has been a regular on late night comedy show “Saturday Night Live” recently told Elle magazine.
“I do think we are starting to see somewhat of a shift,” said Rebecca Puhl, a professor at the University of Connecticut where she is deputy director Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
Heavier actresses are also taking on new types of roles.
“In the past, people with obesity were often cast in more of that comedic role than a serious one,” said James Zervios, of the Obesity Action Coalition, which fights against weight bias.
“As of very recently, we have begun to see people with obesity, such as Chrissy Metz, cast in more dramatic roles.”
But, he adds, the progress is more marked for women than it is for men, who struggle to find leading roles outside of comedic performance.
According to Puhl, research conducted by her institution has found decades worth of evidence documenting weight stigma in the entertainment industry, where characters with a larger body size “are often ridiculed, depicted engaging in stereotypical behavior like eating or binge eating.”
“They’re also less likely to be shown having positive social interaction,” she adds.
That bias is even more pronounced in children’s television, with large characters portrayed as “as being aggressive or antisocial or unfriendly.”
The phenomenon both mirrors and reinforces real word discrimination, adds Puhl, with studies showing that stigmatizing images in the media increase bias.
Today, Melissa McCarthy is one of the few plus-size actresses whose weight and physical appearance is barely remarked upon during a film.
For others, like Metz and Macdonald, their characters’ obesity may be commented on or are part of the wider story without dominating it.
In “Shrill,” Annie, played by Aidy Bryant, is constantly reminded of her obesity through a series of micro-aggressions in the opening scene.
But the show grows in its complexity, as Annie finds herself becoming increasingly comfortable in her skin despite the inability of others to look beyond her weight.
“In a lot of ways, this is a really traditional television show,” Bryant said in her Elle interview, adding: “It’s a girl with her job and her boss and her boyfriends and her friends.
“But the person at the center is the thing that makes it different. That point of view is what is important.”
Though recent developments suggest a step in the right direction, “I don’t think we’re all the way there yet,” said Puhl. “Diversity of body sizes needs to be just a standard part of what we see in the media.”
“We know that two thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese so it makes sense to see these people on screen.”


Ancient artifacts a top attraction at Saudi exhibition in Athens

Updated 25 March 2019
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Ancient artifacts a top attraction at Saudi exhibition in Athens

  • “Roads of Arabia” has visited 14 other countries since it was first shown in Paris in 2010
  • Through the exhibition, the Kingdom has been able to share its history and cultural heritage with more than 5 million visitors around the world

ATHENS: The exhibition “Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia” continues to travel the world, opening in Greece on Wednesday, under the patronage of Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

The exhibition was originally developed by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) and the Musée du Louvre in Paris, where it was first exhibited in 2010. Since then, it has visited 14 other countries before arriving in Greece. “Roads of Arabia” highlights the cultural heritage of the Kingdom and features ancient artifacts from Saudi Arabia.

Greek Minister of Culture Lydia Koniordou opened the 16th edition of “Roads of Arabia” — which will run until May 25 at the Benaki Museum in Athens — in front of an audience including SCTH Chairman Ahmad Al-Khateeb, the Kingdom’s Ambassador to Greece, Esam bin Ibrahim Al-Mal, and a number of officials from both countries.

“Greece has contributed to Western civilization since ancient times, while the Kingdom witnessed the emergence of the Islamic civilization,” Al-Khateeb said at the opening. “Both helped shape the past and present of our world. The relation between Greece and Arabia extends over 3,000 years. This is highlighted in some of the antiquities found in the Kingdom, showcasing the historical and cultural links between Arabia, Greece and Byzantium.

“The Kingdom has always been a crossroads for human civilizations due to its strategic location linking global trade roads,” he continued. “The archaeological discoveries have shown that the Kingdom was a witness to many advanced civilizations since the Stone Age.” 

Al-Khateeb said that, through “Roads of Arabia,” the Kingdom has been able to share its history and cultural heritage with more than 5 million visitors around the world.

“More than 10,000 archaeological sites were discovered in the Kingdom, of which only 400 have been excavated. Just imagine the archaeological wealth (to be) found there,” he added.

As well as examining the 466 rare pieces that comprise the traveling exhibition — dating from the Stone Age to the era of King Abdul Aziz, founder of Saudi Arabia — attendees also toured a “virtual museum” set up by SCTH. 

Meanwhile, working to uncover the past of the Arabian Peninsula, foreign experts have been carrying out archaeological excavations on Farasan Island since 2017. 

So far, a team has revealed 30 sites dating back to pre-Islamic periods, including a number of settlements, animal remains including deer, cows, horses and turtles, and various finds including ancient Arabic inscriptions, and sites dating back to the Roman Empire.

They believe that the future of archaeology in the region is exciting. Experts are aiming to map the entirety of the island’s sites, creating a guide to its historical timeline and development. More local archaeologists, from academics to diggers, are also set for specialized training, to help uncover and preserve some of the Kingdom’s most precious new sites.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Arabian Peninsula was a mystery to Orientalists, but they didn’t want to venture into the desert sands. However, in the late 19th century they came and got to know the lands and the people.

Many sites were registered at that time, especially in the 1970’s, when a comprehensive archaeological survey was done. The results of that time provided a vast list of archaeological sites.