In 2012, the year Pitch Perfect first aca-hit cinema screens, Rebel Wilson declaring that she is to be called Fat Amy — so that other girls don't call her that behind her back — was a refreshingly progressive move. Amy (real name Patricia) was a wonky, talented, raucous woman who owned her identity and sexuality in a way that we had rarely seen plus-size women do in the past.
But as the franchise chugged along into it's second instalment, directed by Elizabeth Banks, the novelty started to wear off. There are only so many self-deprecating jokes Amy can make about her weight before one starts to wonder if the film has lost sight of its goal.
Fast forward to 2017, and we have started to have a real conversation about body positivity and diversity in Hollywood and beyond. In fact, Pitch Perfect 3, the final instalment in the franchise that opens this weekend Friday, came under fire earlier this year when people on Twitter noticed that Wilson had been given a different costume than the rest of the Bellas for one of the film's performances. Rather than the sailor-striped halter worn by the crew, Wilson's version had sleeves. (The costume designer later responded, saying that it was actually Wilson's choice.)
Directed by Trish Sie, Pitch Perfect 3 still features moments where Fat Amy's weight is used for comedic effect. At one point, while being introduced to a group of badass female rockers called Calamity, Serenity, Veracity, and Charity, Amy (wearing a hat that reads "Make America Eat Again") responds: "If I joined your group, I could be Obesity."
In an interview prior to the film's release, I asked Sie whether or not there had been any discussion of foregoing the "Fat" in Fat Amy's name given how touchy it has become.
"It was so well established by the time I came along that there was really no discussion by the third movie," she said. "That’s who she is, and it would have seemed overly politically correct to change it now, [but] it’s hard to know whether we would ever make that decision from the start now."
More importantly however, Sie thinks that to do so would also have cheapened the values that make up the core of the character. "There’s some magic in the fact that she is who she is, and she owns it," Sie explained.
The Fat Amy conundrum is an interesting one because, ultimately, it denotes progress. We needed the character to highlight how few plus-size women actually appear onscreen, but also to prove how harmful so much of the everyday speech directed at them can be. Five years ago, in 2012, someone other than Amy saying most of what she says would have seem absolutely outrageous. The fact that we're now starting to apply that same logic to Amy herself is a sign that we have moved forward.
Ultimately though, we still live in a world where plus-size women are woefully underrepresented onscreen. According to a study done for Refinery29's 67% Project by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, and the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg, female characters are three times as likely to be thin as male ones. After analysing 100 top films of 2016, Smith found that 42.4% of 21 to 29 year-olds shown in movies were qualified as "thin," or "extremely thin." So while we have made strides in our conversations about representation, Hollywood hasn't exactly yet moved with the times, which is why Sie believes Fat Amy is still important.
"We certainly, in my movie, have no intention of fat-shaming. I think the whole Fat Amy storyline in this movie is about her just being a badass. Sometimes, I think you look around at 'plus-size' or 'queen-size' or 'curvy,' and it’s like, maybe there’s just nothing wrong with being fat. Some of us are fat, and that’s okay. I don’t feel like I need to be skinny, and I don’t think we need to pretend to be skinny if we’re not, and I don’t think we need to come up with euphemisms for it. It’s fine! You can do just as many amazing things, and you can be just as glamorous, and just as much of an ass-kicker."