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"The Whale" is yet Another Example of Misrepresentation of Individuals with Disabilities

“The Whale'' is an award-winning film with a touching story that fascinated many with its mature themes. Despite this, it provides the viewers with a misrepresentation of people with morbid obesity. The movie focuses on the story of Charlie (portrayed by Brandon Fraser), a morbidly obese six-hundred-pound college professor living a very reclusive lifestyle using his last days of life trying to make amends with his daughter Ellie(portrayed by Sadie Sink).

Ellie is very vocal about despising Charlie for leaving her years prior; despite this, Charlie loves her dearly and is trying to rebuild a relationship with her. The setting of the entire movie is a direct reflection of the way Charlie lives his life confined to the perimeters of his apartment, as he cannot walk without assistance. This reclusive lifestyle and his obesity were caused by depression after his significant other committed suicide leading him to develop an eating habit to cope with the grief of loss.

“The Whale” uses the same stigma that is very common in stories across many forms of media when it comes to representing those who are obese. This stigma places the blame on the character for what they are going through and uses that character as an example of what not to be. Their disability is treated as a burden impossible to become triumphant over. The film goes out of its way to make the viewers ashamed of Charlie through different scenes and the interactions he has with the other characters.

It is evident in scenes such as the one where Charlie is showering, and the viewers get a view of how disfigured he is, and also in which he is devouring large meals such as entire boxes of pizza. Those scenes give the viewers the idea that those with morbid obesity bring their obesity upon themselves and that you should feel ashamed of them. Later on, more facts about Charlie's condition come to light. It is shown that Charlie could have paid for the medical services he needed to help with his obesity but did not, as he chose to use his savings for Ellie. 

While the altruistic topic of the sacrifices made for his daughter, an act of the unconditional love of a parent is very emotional, it places the blame on Charlie for his obesity. This victim blaming continues as every character throughout the movie turns their back on Charlie and is disgusted by his body. Ellie constantly berates him about his weight and sexuality, despising him for everything that happened and goes as far as wishing for his death.

Even Thomas (portrayed by Ty Simpkins), a religious young man who came to help Charlie receive salvation in his final days of life, ends up losing his temper with Charlie and calling him disgusting. Charlie’s friend and caretaker Liz(portrayed by Hong Chau), is angered at the fact Charlie saved money for so long and still does not want to help himself. Every character rejecting him in some way or form feeds the audience the idea that people with obesity bring their issues upon themselves, and there is no hope for them because of that.


Being an award-winning film, it is only natural that it had a lot of attention from viewers. With it being so popular, it is an excellent way for the general population to learn about those with disabilities, as well as provide a proper representation of those with morbid obesity. It is problematic when a group of people is not being represented in the media, but what’s more important is when they are being represented, they must be correctly portrayed. It is no different from the representation of people within diverse cultures or those within the LGBTQ+ community.

If they are presented negatively, then that is a misrepresentation of the community as a whole, giving birth to several negative stereotypes spread among our societal views. Authentic, inclusive, and proper representation of those with disabilities in the media is a very crucial part of disability studies. 

“The Whale '' could have benefitted from writing a different way for Charlie to have become obese, such as using illnesses that hinder daily activity, such as arthritis, or medications, such as insulin for diabetes. Using these different ways to have Charlie as an obese character not only takes the blame off of Charlie for his condition but allows viewers to have a more positive standpoint when it comes to morbid obesity. There is a common stereotype that people with obesity choose to bring that condition on themselves, eating their lives away.

This film feeds that same stigma used in many stories before its audience, which is not a proper representation of people with obesity as a whole.



Photo Credits: Creator:Neil Grabowsky, Copyright: Neil Grabowsky

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