Ali Wong is Everything: Why Hollywood Needs More Pregnant Protagonists
The depiction of pregnant women in popular media is laughably predictable. The woman generally oscillates between adoringly vulnerable:
to hyperbolically Bey-like fierceness.
Rare are the portrayals of pregnant women simply doing their thing. Of these women being… you know… themselves. But whose character also happen to be pregnant.
Recently I’ve watched a couple of outstanding shows that have broken this mold.
So, here’s giving dap to satisfyingly complex and ragingly pro-female performances that never even utter that other “F” word (feminism).
1. The Comic
It takes huge balls — not to mention tremendous comedic dexterity — to joke about your miscarriage while railing (sort of but not really) against Lean In feminism, and to do so in a meaningfully hilarious way.
But that’s what Ali Wong does in her new special Baby Cobra.
Some comics have a schtick. However, despite having many schticks to choose from, like being 1) a woman, 2) Asian-American, or 3) pregnant, Wong challenges simplistic categorization.
Sure, she jokes about all three quite a bit.
But those jokes don’t define her 60 min special.
In fact, Wong’s pregnancy doesn’t come up in her act until nearly ⅔ into the show.
When she does fold it in she goes balls to the wall.
She calls out double standards of what constitutes being a good father versus being a good mother, gets into graphical detail on a woman’s vagina and bowels, and rounds it out with more than a little physical comedy.
Note: Miley Cyrus ain’t got nothing on a tiny pregnant Asian lady twerkin’ on a stage in Seattle.
Wong embraces her femininity in all her satisfyingly vulgar glory while also talking about topics ranging from ayahuasca ceremonies to how dating Jewish men is like getting an exfoliation you didn’t ask for.
But really the point is this: the first thing I or anyone who’s also seen the show says about her is that she’s hilarious. Full stop.
No caveats. No pre-ambles about her being 7.5 months pregnant. No reference to “empowerment”.
She’s simply, and utterly hilarious.
2. The Spy
If Band of Brothers, Syriana or Jason Bourne have positive connotations for you, then you should definitely binge watch The Night Manager this weekend.
The ensemble cast is top-notch, the writing is nuanced, and the on-location sets (e.g., Cairo and Mallorca) are genuine. The BBC-filmed miniseries has gotten widespread praise both in the UK and the US.
And while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and House (Hugh Laurie) are ostensibly the big-name firepower, it’s Angela Burr, played by Olivia Colman, who is the heart of the show.
While Hiddleston is off carousing with/avenging already spoken-for vixens, it is actually Colman’s character who is the moralistic force propelling the narrative.
Not only does she marshall resources back in London to actually pursue the gun runners, she is also the one one who convinces the supposed protagonist Hiddleston to go deep undercover.
Colman is competent, measured, witty, courageous and powerful.
According to Colman,
“I knew I was pregnant during my first meeting (with Susanne — director) for this amazing job, and I thought, I can’t lie because hopefully everything will be OK and then it’ll become quite obvious. So I told Susanne, and there was a bit of a lull for her to get back to me and she said, ‘OK, you can be pregnant’.
At which point Susanne added:
‘I want to be perfectly honest, that I did immediately think it was a fantastic advantage (Olivia being pregnant), because with her being the moral heart of the piece, it certainly added to it, being pregnant. I don’t think any of the producers actually disagreed’”.
Side note: Colman’s character was male in the original novel.
So, let me get this straight: A male British spy character in a popular novel is replaced in the television version by a middle-aged pregnant woman who, as it turned out, had just found out she was pregnant when she landed the role.
That is, the producers and directors didn’t even originally cast her for her pregnancy.
Rather, they cast her despite it, AND ultimately used the pregnancy to accentuate her character’s moral authority without ever actually calling attention to which trimester she’s in.
In what Hollywood studio not associated with Shonda Rhimes would this happen?
If Colman’s character in The Night Manager isn’t a portrayal of feminism at it’s finest, I don’t know what is.
3. 90s Flashback Bonus: The Police Officer
The modern O.G. of shoulder-shrugging pregnant competence might just be Frances McDormand in Fargo.
Yes, that’s right. Marge Gunderson was with child.
It’s obvious when you think about it now, but at first blush you probably remember Fargo as simply a great Coen brothers flick and McDormand’s character as just the “aww-shucks MinnesOta” cop.
That she was calm throughout while also about to pop was certainly a striking juxtaposition with the other manic male characters, but her pregnancy was also not a front-and-center component of the script.
Tip of the hat but no wag of the finger for you, Ms. McDormand.
Has Hollywood turned a corner on casting of women and specifically of pregnant ones?
Not when it’s agreed by A-listers/hotties like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tina Fey that women in entertainment have a Last F*ckable Day.
That said, Wong, Colman and McDormand offer a great model for how directors, casting directors, and producers of film and television should treat those with child.
That is, they should treat them simply as talented professionals capable of carrying a performance.
Because they can. And they are. 攀
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