Hollywood is making strides to portray more diverse characters onscreen, but there’s certainly still a long way to go. Or as actress and comedian Natasha Rothwell puts it, “It’s not a secret that the media that’s out there to consume tends to look a certain way.”
Which is why, through her roles on shows like Insecure *and movies like * Love, Simon, out today, she’s working to “shift the paradigm and challenge expectations.” Here, she shares why true inclusivity in movies and TV can be achieved only by showcasing the multifaceted, complicated, and sometimes mundane nature of all people.
I’ve always been kind of precocious, but my journey sort of solidified when I was in college and majored in theater. That’s how I knew I wanted to spend my life writing, telling, and performing stories. One of the biggest things I learned was not to tell myself no before someone else. As someone who’s creative, I know the inner critic can be really loud. Early on in my career, I would just listen to it and tell myself no.
There are enough people in the world who want to tell you not to do something, especially if you’re a woman and especially if you’re a woman of color.
As time went on, I realized there are enough people in the world who want to tell you not to do something, especially if you’re a woman and especially if you’re a woman of color. I didn’t want to add to that voice of negativity, so I chose to really believe in my ideas and value my opinions and fight for what I thought was good and funny and fun—the stories I thought were worth telling. If someone else says no, which is inevitable in this business, that’s a different a fight than fighting yourself before you even get to that point.
You don’t do this for a living if you think that success is going to be immediate or if you think it’s going to look a specific way; it’s not going to be immediate, and it will never look how you think it will. You definitely have to earn your stripes and go into auditions and be told no. It’s a mind game you have to play. But for me, the drive to keep going is this deep-seated passion and desire to not give up. When you know you’re meant to do something and you know you love doing something more than anything else in the world, a no from someone else is not going to stop you. It didn’t stop me.
In an industry that looks a certain way and values a certain aesthetic, you can face resistance that doesn’t necessarily live in the audition room. It just sort of lives in how you navigate the industry. There’s no specific story where someone looked at me and said, “No! Too black, too fat.” No one’s had the gall to say that to my face, but you learn about what casting directors tastes are. It’s not a secret that the media that’s out there to consume tends to look a certain way. It’s up to me to consciously go into rooms and shift the paradigm and challenge expectations by being creative with the material that I’m given and finding a real grounded way to present audition material or writing samples, as it were.
Since the inception of Hollywood, film and television have been treated as forms of escapism. From its genesis, they were never meant to reflect reality; they were supposed to be aspirational, which is problematic. So you have this aspirational form of escapism, and it’s teaching young girls that they should aspire to look a certain way. I think we’re dealing the aftermath of that sort of approach to escapism and to theater and film.
There are a handful of plus-size women who are telling diverse stories, and it is problematic, but I take great pride in being plus-size. I’m a plus-size, fat-loving, body-positive feminist, and I look for roles that celebrate that. And I try to write to that when I have the opportunity to do so. It’s not necessarily writing a storyline that’s like, “Let’s celebrate and focus on this person’s size.” It’s telling any story and the person driving that story happens to be plus-size.
I would love to see stories…with a plus-size cast. Let’s see two real chunky people do When Harry Met Sally and not change a damn word.
It’s very similar to Love, Simon in that way. It’s a story about someone coming out, but it’s a love story at the end of the day, and the person driving that story is LGBTQIA+, which is so powerful. It’s a familiar story that gives to a platform to a marginalized voice, and I think that’s so cool. It really presents the vulnerability of what it means to be a teenager, and anyone in the audience can connect to that. I would love to see stories treated that way with a plus-size cast. Let’s see two real chunky people do When Harry Met Sally and not change a damn word. Let’s tell diverse stories and lift the pressure off of making a moment out of the other.
What I loved about playing Ms. Albright in Love, Simon is that so often when we speak of allies in the queer community, we don’t really get to see what it means be an active ally. I love that she can step into this world with these kids and be a truth teller. She’s not being afraid of calling out bullying and speaking her mind as an adult with these kids. She keeps it 100. She might use a swear word, but she knows you’re not going flip out about it. You’ll appreciate it because it’s real.
I hope movies like Love, Simon encourage people to be their authentic selves. For the ally community, it speaks to the necessity of activism, especially now. Speak out when you see injustice and understand that in a very real way, silence is violence. You don’t want to be in the position where you give in to fear. There’s strength, community, and power on the other side.