OAC's Liz Paul in Conversation with Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser Wins an Oscar for The Whale

It was nothing short of cathartic for many people toiling in the tricky space of advocacy for people living with obesity. Brendan Fraser last night won an Oscar, Best Actor, for his portrayal of Charlie in The Whale.

His character, Charlie, is dying from complications of obesity and the movie depicts him as a very real, whole person, with vices and virtues like all of us.

The Value of Empathy and Respect

In following all of the conversation about this movie and Fraser’s role in it, one thing stands out. It is his empathy and respect for people who might see themselves in it. He took the time to consult with volunteers from the Obesity Action Coalition to understand their life experiences and the role obesity plays in it. He recently told the New York Times about the havoc that weight bias and stigma wreak:

“I know what it feels like to be the brunt of a joke that’s mean. You’re looking at a guy who has been compared against an example of myself from 25 years ago in a loincloth. That’s salacious and sells copies of the Daily Mail, but to hell with the consequences of who might be the human being on the receiving end of that kind of scorn and derision.

“Guess what? It’s not nice. I have feelings. I can identify with the constant harangue that people who live in oversized bodies have to endure in their daily life. They become overlooked by doctors, they don’t get the same attention. That really does play at your confidence, and it can lead to more harmful behavior. It’s a health consequence that is essentially eradicated if we just stop being mean to one another.”

This understanding fuels a compelling performance that earned Fraser his Oscar for the Whale.

Seeing Ourselves

The cathartic response to this award comes from seeing ourselves in someone who is a real human being dealing with strong feelings of love and regret while facing his own mortality. Obesity is one of many dimensions to his life. OAC board member Sarah Bramblette explains:

“Charlie looks like me, and it was the first time I saw someone like me in a lead role. Also first time where the person’s weight is a realistic portrayal and not a bouncy prop meant to be a joke.

“The Whale tells the story of one man, Charlie. It’s not meant to represent everyone with severe obesity or excess weight. We’re all different, we all have different lived experiences and our reactions to the movie are evident of that fact.”

Today, we are simply grateful for the recognition that one person’s story doesn’t have to be every person’s story. But because Fraser portrays it with respect and humanity, it has value for all of us.

Click here, here, here, and here for more on Fraser’s win and his approach to this role. For insight into his work with the OAC to gain insight into lived experiences with obesity, click here.

OAC’s Liz Paul in Conversation with Brendan Fraser, image from Video by the Obesity Action Coalition / YouTube

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


March 13, 2023