Netflix Mathilde is sure to be popular as it adapts the acclaimed musical based on Roald Dahl’s beloved novel. However, there’s already one area where it’s being pushed back: Emma Thompson’s fat suit for the role of Miss Trunchbull.
Like many of Roald Dahl’s villains, sadistic schoolteacher Miss Trunchbull has quite the over-the-top looks. She’s meant to be big, intimidating, and implicitly masculine – in fact, Miss Trunchbull is played by a man Mathilde Stage musical reflecting the British tradition of pantomime ladies. Emma Thompson wears facial prosthetics and pads in the upcoming film, prompting criticism of the practice of hiring slim, conventionally attractive actors for this type of role.
Fat suits are controversial for a number of reasons, from discrimination in the workplace (because fat actors are losing roles) to the often anti-fat way prosthetics are used on screen. Miss Trunchbull is a textbook example because her appearance corresponds directly to her villain role and contrasts with Miss Honey, the film’s slender, female mentor figure.
Netflix’s first images of Thompson as Miss Trunchbull were met with a wave of disappointment on Twitter, prompting comments such as “We literally never need a skinny actor in a fat suit” and “fat suits are never okay and the film industry should know that by now!” In recent years we’ve seen similar backlash against projects as American Crime Story: Impeachmentwhere Sarah Paulson was called in for putting on a bulky suit to play officer Linda Tripp.
In Great Britain metro Newspaper journalist Emmie Harrison-West wrote: “As a taller woman, I find this caricature of my body type absolutely dehumanizing and demeaning.” Meanwhile, fat acceptance activist Aubrey Gordon shared similar sentiments on twitter: “I would just like to sit down and watch a movie and know that my body is not a prop, punchline, cautionary tale, or completely obliterated.”
This controversy comes at a bad time for Thompson, who is currently promoting the film Good luck Leo Grande, In it she plays a retired widow who hires a sex worker to explore her sexuality. Her performance was widely acclaimed, and there was much debate about the unusual experience of seeing an older woman’s body and sex life displayed openly on screen.
Recent interviews make it clear that Thompson has thought deeply about the pressures women face to always appear young and slim, and how movies can affect how people view their own bodies. She has spoken of feeling insecure about her looks from a young age and witnessed actresses being encouraged to starve themselves to get good roles. So there’s a noticeable disconnect between intelligent, sensitive conversation Good luck to you Leo Grandeand the way fat suit roles like Miss Trunchbull demonize or demean people who don’t conform to the Hollywood ideal of thinness.
The Daily Dot has reached out to Netflix for comment.
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*Initial publication: June 21, 2022 at 7:04 am CDT
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in science fiction films and superheroes, she also appears as a film and television critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she is the co-host of the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor