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Critic's Warning That Fat People Shouldn't See 'The Whale' Sparks Debate

Newsweek 9/14/2022 Jamie Burton
Brendan Fraser won the Tribute Award for Performance at the Toronto International Film Festival (L) for his performance in "The Whale." © Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images / A24 Brendan Fraser won the Tribute Award for Performance at the Toronto International Film Festival (L) for his performance in "The Whale."

Brendan Fraser's upcoming performance in The Whale should be avoided by both "fat people" and "skinny people" according to one movie critic who's opinion has sparked debate online.

Fans have been celebrating a "Brenaissance," the coined phrase for the return of Fraser to mainstream movies and TV. His appearance in Darren Aronofsky's upcoming psychological drama is expected to be an awards season favorite, but some who've seen early previews say it won't be to everyone's liking.

Entertainment journalist Katie Rife posted a warning for viewers on Twitter, though her stance incited a spirited debate in the comment section and over on Reddit too. The Whale has been hotly anticipated for a while, with Fraser telling Newsweek in 2021 that the movie will leave "a lasting impression," though since then, campaigners have criticized the movie's use of a fat suit.

"I can't recommend in good conscience that fat people watch The Whale," wrote Rife on Sunday after watching it at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. "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."

Continuing to share her thoughts on The Whale, Rife cited a list of "red flags for [eating disorders] and fat phobia" within the script, which reminded her of her own experiences.

"You can tell that no actually fat peoples were involved in the production [because] of a major plot point where the protagonist is dying, but refuses to go to the hospital even though he has money to pay the bills," Rife states that the reason would be "medical fatphobia." She also noted that people were laughing at scenes in which the main character drops a key and can't pick it up.

Rife does praise Fraser for his performance, saying that the "humanity, sensitivity and sympathy" within the movie comes from him. Fraser was awarded the Performance Award at the Toronto Film Festival on Sunday night.

This take, and other critics who panned the film in reviews, sparked debate online.

"As a diehard Aronofsky fan, this is definitely a bummer," wrote Twitter user @handdarakarhide who said they'll still see the movie but bear these comments from Rife and others in mind.

"I was so afraid of that," wrote @SeegeVega in response to Rife's take. "As a person who has struggled with her weight, binge eating, shame eating and fat abuse all my life I'm just not sure I can emotionally handle a film like this. Even for Brendan Fraser."

Some on Twitter dismissed Rife's opinions on the movie, while many continued the debate over on Reddit.

"I'm not gonna let fat people ruin Brendan Fraser's moment," stated @a_lostgay on Reddit. "I knew the discourse around this movie was going to be cringe. Aronofsky doesn't miss though," wrote @writersontop, which then led people to praise Aronofsky as a filmmaker.

The Whale criticism led to some people questioning the legitimacy of obese people as a group. "Sorry fatties, you're not going to get your civil rights moment or whatever. Can't wait to see this," one user wrote with another adding, "Fat is an identity now I guess."

A day later, Rife shared further thoughts on The Whale upon further reflection. "I wish The Whale had just owned its cruelty. I would have respected it more if it had," she wrote on Monday. "As it is, giving audiences the cheap satisfaction that they're good people for shedding a few tears for a fat guy is beneath contempt in my mind."

Newsweek reached out to Rife for further comment.

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