Jacob Kowalski In 'Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them' Is A New Kind Of Fat Sidekickm
When Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them's Jacob Kowalski first appears onscreen, I feel myself tense up. It's rare to see a fat protagonist in film and television, let alone in a major blockbuster such as this. Seeing Jacob's short and stout body and his briefcase full of pastries, I assume that what viewers are about to experience is yet another cliche fat person trope: an often-eating, sweet treat-loving, not-very-clever sidekick to the far more conventionally handsome lead actor, in this case, Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander.
I imagine that Dan Fogler's character will be comparable to a Homer Simpson or Doug Heffernan: a lovable buffoon of sorts whose fatness is, for the most part, excused by virtue of being a white guy, but whose body type is still meant to exist in direct correlation to comedy. It will be utilized as a tool for laughs when a bed creaks beneath his body, when his belly jiggles as he walks, or when he breaks a piece of furniture.
But with the exception of one scene in which Newt steps into his magical briefcase with ease, only for Jacob to have to shuffle around his tummy in order to fit through, Jacob's body type is never actually referenced. And even in this scene, his fatness is not handled with malice. The comedic aspect of his situation is arguably the kind that should be allowed to exist without any accompanying feelings of shame. It's the kind that could maybe someday translate as, "Yes I'm big. Sometimes I struggle to fit into small spaces. And I'm totally cool with that," should fat shaming ever become an antiquated prejudice.
Other than this one moment, viewers seemingly aren't meant to think about Jacob's body at all. Instead, we are shown a highly likable lead character who is allowed to inhabit a larger body without that being a focal point of his entire persona. Although Jacob inarguably exists with the privileges of being male and being white (privileges plus size women and plus size people of color are typically not privy to), his character still deconstructs several toxic interpretations of both fatness and masculinity, erasing them from the film like obliviated memories.
And this is what makes Jacob such a remarkable character. He's not the only kindhearted fat or chunky man to appear on a big screen, of course, but how he's treated makes all the difference. Take Game Of Thrones' Samwell Tarly, who is one of the kindest, most gentle souls Westeros has to offer, but whose body type is cause for much humiliation and ridicule from the beginning of his time at The Wall. The same is true of Harry Potter's Neville Longbottom in the first few movies, the loyal, chubby friend to our three favorite wizards, and who is constantly fat shamed by Draco Malfoy and others.
In Fantastic Beasts, however, Jacob's weight doesn't make him a magnet for ridicule, and he's also not shown to be morally corrupt or ridiculously dopey, stereotypes often placed upon fat onscreen characters. Although it's undoubtedly far rarer to see fat women onscreen playing roles in which their body types are not central to their characters (they are often the designated, ugly fat friends, the self-hating sad fatties, the "desperate" losers, or the villains whose bodies serve as blatant metaphors for greed and corruption), fat men face frequent stereotyping, as well. You need only look at Uncle Vernon and cousin Dudley in the Harry Potter franchise to be reminded of the alleged correlation between a high weight and a questionable moral compass.
While some might argue that Jacob Kowalski still falls under the umbrella of "dopey fat sidekick," he never feels as such to me. Any dopey-ness he exhibits is purely a result of being a No-Maj, a non-magical person being introduced, for the very first time, to mythical creatures and dark forces beyond his wildest dreams. Otherwise, he is a perfectly capable, intelligent guy who served in his country's military, is on the road to opening his own business, and exhibits all the qualities one might expect of the best friend to the story's hero: loyalty, a (sometimes reluctant) desire for adventure, kindness, and cleverness.
But it's his romance with Queenie that sets him apart from past cliches the most. Yes, we've seen fat guys pair up with conventionally beautiful women in TV and film before (whereas the opposite type of coupling is incredibly rare, sans one scene featuring Gabourey Sidibe on Empire ). King Robert and Cersei Lannister of Game Of Thrones come to mind, as do Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl's characters in Knocked Up. Marge Simpson, even as a cartoon, is supposed to be way out of Homer's "league," as is Carrie Spooner Heffernan, Kevin James' wife on The King Of Queens.
Yet when it comes to Jacob and Queenie's relationship, one is never left questioning, "What does she see in him?" Their romance isn't framed as being out of the ordinary, much like it shouldn't be in real life where individuals of all sizes fall in love and have intimate relationships with one another. They are simply presented as two people who form a connection, and although Jacob very obviously finds Queenie beautiful, she is equally captivated by everything about him.
Their relationship even serves as the focal love story throughout the entire film. As Harry-and-Hermione shippers know all too well, J.K. Rowling is known to dish out the unexpected when it comes to her romantic creations. The obvious pairing in Fantastic Beasts is Newt and Tina, but the possibility of this is only (spoiler alert) hinted at briefly at the end of the film. Instead, it's Jacob and Queenie who are the central couple, and they even share a big kiss: the kind of kiss that's supposed to make you feel many feels and snuggle up closer next to your S.O. In my own 25 years, it's the first time I can remember seeing such a moment in cinema, where a fat character has a truly romantic, not-at-all-laughable, utterly emotional scene with a non-fat character, every second orchestrated to be just as beautiful and memorable as the first time we saw Hermione and Ron come together for a snog all those years ago.
Subsequently, viewers are gifted with the subtle and rare reminder that fat people, much like everyone else, fall in love, lead wonderfully exciting lives, and don't need to lose weight in order to so. At the end of the film, when Queenie and Jacob reunite after his memories have (supposedly) vanished, we are presented with the idea that perhaps their relationship has not ended. In fact, it might be a key point in all the following films. In every installment of Fantastic Beasts, viewers might get to see a couple onscreen who breaks all the rules for what what kinds of people we are "supposed" to fall for, depending on how we look.
Jacob's height and stature mean he does not fit in with the physical aesthetic of the conventional male hero. He has pudge where the cliche lead would have pronounced abs and musculature. There is a sweet awkwardness to him, evident when he meets Newt's creatures and pets them cautiously but lovingly, tells Queenie that he adores when she reads his mind, or by the sheer fact that he is a baker more interested in cooking up beautiful and delectable muffins than consuming an Angus steak with a pint of beer to wash it down. Jacob defies many tropes, of fatness and masculinity alike, and both in his physique and in his personality, he is a reminder that there is no right way to be a man, and no right way to have a body.
Jacob's figure is never an obstacle in finding love and adventure. It does not prevent him from being sucked into a world of wizardry and wonder. The only thing that sets him apart from anyone else in the storyline is that we, as viewers, are so unaccustomed to seeing humans who look like him in leading roles, and the way that his body type is not a key aspect to his plotline in any way feels like progress. Jacob is normalized in the way his co-stars are normalized, and as a result, he is proof that actors of size are perfectly capable of rocking the hell out of storylines that have absolutely nothing to do with their bodies. I can only hope that with time, more characters of all genders and all incarnations of fatness are able to have such opportunities, just as they always should have been allowed to do.
Images: Warner Bros. Pictures (3); Giphy (2)