The Whale Writer Explains Where He Thinks The Backlash To Brendan Fraser's Casting Is Coming From

Brendan Fraser in The Whale
(Image credit: A24)

Darren Aronofsky has been no stranger to dividing moviegoers when it comes to his films of the past, and his latest, 2022 movie release The Whale is following suit. The drama stars Brendan Fraser as a 600-pound teacher struggling with his health, who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teen daughter, played by Sadie Sink. Since the movie’s release, it’s been both showered with praise and criticized for its portrayal of obesity. Following the divisive reactions, The Whale’s writer has shared his own thoughts. 

The Whale is an adaptation of a 2012 play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter, who also penned the screenplay for the A24 film. In an interview with People, Hunter opened up that the story is somewhat influenced by some of his own experiences self medicating with food and struggling with a depressed young man who struggled with “reconciling” his Christian faith and his queer sexuality. When it comes to The Whale’s backlash, Hunter said where he thinks it’s coming from with these words: 

One, I think the history of obesity, in regards to cinema, is pretty terrible. These kinds of prosthetics have been used very inaccurately and to deride people or make fun of them. Whereas what we're doing is just trying to delve into the deep complex humanity of this very beautiful and complicated human being.

As Hunter also pointed out, he’s “read hundreds of reviews” about the original play of The Whale and he’s “never really encountered that sort of backlash” from it that the movie is now getting. He attributed it to Hollywood’s negative history with depicting obesity on film. Many times over, movies have had actors wearing fat suits to play to comedic beats, thus Fraser's casting be the latest to receive backlash. Hunter also said this: 

And I also just think that with this kind of stuff… With plays, people don't usually read a one sentence synopsis and then judge it based off of that. But I think that people just do that more often with film. So yeah, I mean, I understand that people will have whatever reaction they're going to have, but I just have to have faith in the story that I'm telling, which I think is grounded in empathy and love.

And there’s certainly so many more eyes on Samuel D. Hunter’s story now that it’s a movie than he ever would have seen with his play. The backlash has included Mean Girls actor and member of the LGBTQ+ community, Daniel Franzese who said he was “conflicted” about The Whale casting Fraser rather than “other big queer guys.” Other examples are Roxane Gay's thought she felt the movie reinforced anti-fat stereotypes in a The New York Times opinion piece along with many other people on Twitter calling it “fatphobic.” 

Brendan Fraser wore prosthesis and a bodysuit to portray The Whale’s protagonist and has defended the use of this, also explaining that the production felt an “obligation” to ensure they were “accurate” and not used as a “one-note joke.” Additionally, director Darren Aronofsky spoke to the casting process, saying he did look for actors with obesity but it became a “crazy chase” to find someone who was heavy enough and decided to instead find the right actor for the emotion of the role rather than the stature. 

As The Whale continues to play in theaters, divide movie fans as it is very much a part of the award season conversation, you can check out CinemaBlend’s interviews with Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink and more

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.