COMMENTS: Sapphire, left, and actress Gabourey Sidibe, right
US AUTHOR Sapphire believes that the criticism Gabourey Sidibe received about her weight hid critics’ deeper rooted prejudice about the actress’s complexion.
Sidibe’s starring role in Lee Daniels’ award-winning 2009 film Precious, which was inspired by Sapphire’s 1996 novel Push, earned the actress plenty of attention, with many critics and bloggers ridiculing the 28-year-old’s size.
The most notable critic was US radio host Howard Stern, who famously referred to Sidibe as “the most enormous, fat black chick I’ve ever seen,” before insisting that her size would prevent her from enjoying a successful career in Hollywood.
But 61-year-old Sapphire, who had consultation on the choosing of Sidibe for the lead role, believes that critics were less bothered by the actress’s weight than they were about her dark skin complexion.
“I think what people really didn’t really wanna deal with was her colour,” Sapphire told The Voice. “In the past 20 years, there have been no major actresses who were as dark as Gabourey and I think that’s what people had a problem with. It wasn’t her size.
“Look at Roseanne Barr and other big white girls, they work. What people were really saying is, ‘a dark skinned black woman can’t work.’ Gabourey’s success sparked internalised racism from some black people and sheer bewilderment from some white people.”
Sapphire revealed that before she agreed to work with Daniels on a film adaptation of Push, several budding filmmakers approached her with film offers. One in particular even had plans to cast R’n’B star Brandy in the lead role.
“I remember one young black filmmaker came to me and he had it all worked out,” Sappire recalled. “He said he’d raised the money already and he’d talked to Brandy – Brandy was who he wanted to play Precious.
“I was like, ‘Brandy to play Precious? That’s not gonna work! You’ve read the book, we need someone who looks like Precious.’ He was like, ‘Well those kind of people aren’t gonna work in Hollywood.’ So I was just like, ‘I’ll talk to you later!’”