A Win for Representation: Why Da'Vine Joy Randolph winning an Oscar means the world

A Win for Representation: Why Da'Vine Joy Randolph winning an Oscar means the world

A plus-size woman won an Oscar and we absolutely need to talk about it.

Da'Vine Joy Randolph took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Holdovers, and honestly, I couldn’t be happier. I always love the Oscars, and celebrating people's achievements in film - especially when it's so well-deserved - is something I really enjoy come awards season. But the 2024 Academy Awards hit differently this year, not only is this a win for Randolph and her fantastic performance, but a win for representation across the board.

Only a handful of plus-sized women have ever been nominated for an Oscar, and even fewer have actually won in almost a century of award shows. Thinking specifically about acting awards here, historically only 4 plus sized women have won Oscars: Kathy Bates who won Best Actress in 1991 for Misery, Mo’Nique who won Best Supporting Actress in 2009 for Precious, Octavia Spencer in The Help for Best Supporting Actress in 2012, and of course Hattie McDaniel in 1939 for her performance in Gone with the Wind - who was also the first black woman ever to win an Oscar. Adding Da’Vine Joy Randolph to that list gives us a grand total of 5. Which I wish I could say it surprises me, but it really, really doesn’t.

It's no secret that Hollywood loves to pretend fat people don’t exist. The discrimination that is faced by actors over a certain size is anything but quiet, especially when it comes to women. Actors that are bigger than a size 16 are so few and far between. Sure you can find a few plus-size actors, but often these lists are full of women who are the mainstream, acceptable version of plus size - aka not fat at all, just not stick thin and have big boobs. I can only think of a few examples of actually bigger actors. So it makes sense in some horrible way that there have been so few larger women winning Oscars, but that doesn’t make this woeful statistic okay by any means. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Randolph herself said: “When you truly understand the climate of this industry and who’s telling the stories, we’re marginalized. And then on top of that, to be a woman of colour who is curvy? This outdoes the dreams that I dreamt.... I let go of the wheel in that respect a long time ago.”

The few fat actors that have made it rarely get leading roles. They don’t get the nuanced, well-written characters that reflect the depth of the human experience. No, on the rare occasions that bigger actors do land roles, they’re almost always relegated to stereotypical roles that can reinforce the harmful stereotypes we’re trying to get away from. They're the comic relief or the sidekick, and their size is always the punch line that we’re all supposed to fall about laughing at. They’re a bumbling idiot who is always thinking about food. They’re sad, pathetic characters who you’re supposed to feel sorry for. Being fat is always their whole personality and their characters never go beyond that. And if they’re not the sidekick then they’re almost always the villain. A gross, disgusting, creepy villain who is greedy and lazy represents the peak of fat shaming in movies. And what makes it worse is that we see it time and time again - filmmakers keep wheeling out these problematic fat characters expecting us to either be overcome with gratitude for a crumb of “representation” or be complicit in our own mockery.

Fat people don’t get love interests. They don’t get happy endings. They’re one-dimensional caricatures that we’re all so tired of seeing.

This is one of the reasons that makes Randolph's win so refreshing and honestly gives me a little bit of hope. A fat woman won for a role that didn’t have anything to do with being fat. She was just a damn good actress, and it gives me a glimmer of hope that maybe more representation is coming. And not only did she win, but she looked amazing while doing it. Whether you like it or not, red carpet fashion is a huge part of awards season and Randolph absolutely killed it in her custom Louis Vuitton gown - proving that red carpet style doesn’t have a size limit.

It’s this representation that’s so important, and why fatphobia in Hollywood is so damaging. This isn’t just about casting choices, it's the consequences of systemic fatphobia across a whole industry that contributes to the erasure and discrimination of plus-sized people. It perpetuates beauty standards that can be so harmful to those who see them, creating a cycle of body shaming and self-hatred. That all sounds dramatic, but everyone deserves to see themselves in the media they consume. They deserve the affirmation, validation and acceptance that can come from good representation. Seeing a fat person in a movie isn’t going to fix fatphobia in one go, but it is all a step on the journey to breaking down stereotypes and creating a more inclusive society for everyone.

It might be a tad self-indulgent to say I saw myself on stage when Randolph accepted that award, and I’m sure there are many others out there who found her win to be so inspiring and affirming to my own experiences. As she said in her speech; “For so long I’ve always wanted to be different. And now I realise I just need to be myself.”


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