So, the short story is that the new documentary 20 Feet from Stardom is pretty much a film about fat femmes of color.
How did I miss the Feminist Wire's deliciously nuanced write-up of this movie? Thank GOD it was between this and the newest Wolverine installment at the Balboa Theatre (which is walking distance from my apartment and has two screens total), otherwise I would have missed it altogether.
20 Feet follows Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, and Tata Vega. Their voices everyone knows (because they made the sound of many rock hits) but their names few remember. They've sung (and continue to sing) for acts like David Bowie, Sting, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John.
I was really struck by the narratives of size, sexuality, race and gender that were evident in this film. All of the protagonists were women, most of them deviated from US standards of thinness, and all but one were Black. Theirs were/are the voices - and bodies - used to make white men lead vocalists sound/look better or "rawer."
There were several points in the film where they spoke frankly about oft-neglected themes in the history of rock music. To name a few:
As the world’s most rabid consumers of black culture, white folks’ imperialist yearnings to be “black” (from Jack Kerouac to Norman Mailer to Sandra Bernhard) emerge from this grand obsession with the supposed wild, raw, unfettered, close-to-the-bone emotion and physicality of the Black woman belting out soulful paeans to life and love.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.