Amy Schumer will be back at her old trainwreck self in movie houses this weekend with Snatched, about a raunchy mother-daughter road trip in South America. Hollywood goddess Goldie Hawn costars in the comedy, which seems to be another Paul Feig-approved film hoping to catch Bridesmaids’s “Women are awesome—and funny!” box-office fire. While trailers for Snatched seem to distance Schumer’s movie character from her public persona (aside from the film’s promoted raunchiness), the question is whether this movie can do anything to help fix the actress’s increasing fractured reputation as a relatable Hollywood woman who represents all women—type-casting that has propelled her to fame, an Emmy win and a spot in the cool kids’ club alongside Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence.
Schumer has somehow become synonymous with the third, if not the very contentious fourth, wave of feminism and that’s become a problem, for a few reasons. The first is that the only seeming reason she’s been christened a thought-leader is that so many are ignorant of actual feminist theory. They know the names Gloria Steinem, Laura Mulvey and Audre Lorde, but not what they did or what they wrote. They also think first-wave feminism can be summarized as the fight for suffrage. Thus, hearing Schumer unabashedly talk about her vagina over and over again in a time when vaginas are at war with politicians lends her to being a sort of feminist leader. But Schumer’s brand of feminism is more oxymoronic than authentic—if not downright exploitative, in the way that it’s a branding mechanism—and I, for one, am over it. It shouldn’t be a metonym for the impressive strides other feminists have made of late, like the success of the Women’s March and the movement’s 10 Actions for the First 100 Days mobilization.
The cracks in Schumer’s brand began to show when she fumbled over one of feminism’s most defining principles: body image and a woman’s relationship with her own. Schumer has long advocated women owning their curves and sexuality, with the butt of most of her self-deprecating jokes being about her size, but when Glamour referenced her as an inspirational plus-size woman in April 2016, she took Instagram to clarify. “Plus size is considered a size 16 in America,” she wrote. “I go between a size 6 and a size 8.”
Schumer’s hang up is that she has to posit herself against other women in order to be herself—and prove who she is as a woman.
Many took that caption to be a win in how it underlined just how “size-ist” Hollywood and media is against anyone who isn’t a size two. But just as many critics—and women—called her out for co-opting plus-size women for her own gain. The real issue of calling Schumer “plus size” speaks less to Glamour’s ability to fact check (and it is embarrassing for the women’s magazine) and more to just how severely women can be ostracized by their own when they’re outside of the status quo. More than anything, Schumer’s Instagram caption suggested she’d rather distance herself from the plus-size label than address how the label is misunderstood and how it affects real women—that is, unless embracing the label can land her a comedy special on HBO or Netflix.
Soon after the Glamour gaffe, Schumer was again in the hot seat for having filmed her own version—“not a parody,” she said—of Beyoncé’s groundbreaking “Formation” music video, which seemed to whitewash both the song and its racially charged video by featuring white actresses goofily dancing. The implications of Schumer’s controversial spin, despite reportedly having the blessing of Queen Bey, were widely discussed across the internet. “The controversy represents an issue much larger than Schumer. Women of color, particularly black women, continue to feel excluded from mainstream feminism,” wrote entertainment journalist Bethonie Butler in The Washington Post. “If a sizable portion of black women, including prominent feminists, say that the video offends them, does it truly represent ‘all love and women inspiring each other’? The women of color in the parody are used largely as accessories.”
It is understandable that some white women would be confused about “Formation” and Lemonade; most have never needed a diva’s music to save them from anything outside of a rough breakup. (Yes, I write this as a white woman myself.) If Schumer had perhaps grappled with how “Formation” impacted those it was written for, she might have expressed sincere regret after the backlash. That would have been a great moment for women everywhere—akin to when Adele admitted Beyoncé’s album was more inspired than hers at the Grammys.
But Schumer didn’t do that, and perhaps it’s because feminist thinking isn’t her priority—or her strong suit. Instead, she responded, “If you watched it and it made you feel anything other than good, please know that was not my intention. The movie we made is fun and the women in it are strong and want to help each other.” Note: the video features a disheveled Hawn, dressed in rags, dancing to “Formation” in an airport.
Given that a pussy grabber is Commander in Chief, it’s all the more important for white people to understand that not being racist simply isn’t enough anymore. (Again, I write this as a white woman.) When being told that remaking “Formation” for publicity and comedy is unsavory because it co-opts a black woman’s art for a white woman’s gain doesn’t illicit an apology, it’s obvious we have an ignorance issue. Schumer ended her response by saying, “I’m not going anywhere…My mission is to continue to work as hard as I can to empower women.”
Weeks later, Schumer posted an Instagram photo of a fan whose Halloween costume was Schumer’s book cover. Schumer’s caption was, “Tribute not a parody”—some clear snarl at the “Formation” backlash. Did she hold a grudge? Was she now weaponizing racial and cultural criticism for her own public gain? After all, a white woman dressing as a white woman for Halloween isn’t a big deal. A white woman dressing as a black woman for Halloween, though? And is that similar to a white woman acting out a black woman’s music video? Those are clearly not questions Schumer cares to ask.
Late last year, at the 2016 Victoria Secret Fashion Show, social media buzzed with backstage photos of gilded models in joy and tears as they experienced career ecstasy. True, it’s always a lot vibrato for such a frivolous event, and such vapidity always triggers comedians. But after a streak of offending fellow women, one would think Schumer would take a beat from mocking women. Nope. Schumer began the night with a post of her and her sister in pajamas with a sarcastic caption: “nervous for the big fashion show with the Hadids and Kylie! #sohungry #loveparis #schumersisters #oldnavythreads #modelalert.” She ended the night with a scantily-clad professional photograph of herself with the caption “Women Crush Wednesday and every day. #yaheard #nothighgap #justthewagegap.”
Will Schumer be playing a plus-size Barbie, or is she letting herself be cast as Barbie to shake her image of her being ‘plus-size’?
The juxtaposition of those two posts is a perfect encapsulation of Schumer’s hang up: she has to posit herself against other women in order to be herself—and prove who she is as a woman. That’s fine—but she can’t campaign under a promise to “empower women” at the same time. Doing so begs the question, Which is it? Is she an empowering feminist because she speaks her mind without abandon? Or is she an empowering feminist who stands up for all women? Because Victoria’s Secret models are women too.
To put an unexpected bow on the whole thing, Schumer has been cast as Barbie in Diablo Cody’s movie adaptation of iconic doll, due next year. That could be a move in the right direction, reframing Barbie’s stifling body type as something more recognizable to young girls. But should the face of that movement be someone who has a history of discrediting women who do look like Barbie? Or someone who has distanced herself from plus-size women by proudly declaring she isn’t plus-size?
Thus we reach the paradox: Will Schumer be playing a plus-size Barbie, or is she letting herself be cast as Barbie to shake her image of her being “plus-size”? Will she reframe the image of Barbie—or of herself? Schumer wasted no time in using the casting decision as cultural capital to silence and boast. On Instagram, she captioned a photo of herself in a bathing suit, “Is it fat shaming if you know you’re not fat and have zero shame in your game? I don’t thinks so.” She goes on to list all of her accomplishments, thank her supporters and throw some backhanded jabs at body-shaming internet trolls.
From this outsider’s point of view, the public persona of Amy Schumer amounts to what you see when you look at a funhouse mirror: multiple refractions, each more distorted than the last. Right now, about three years into her mainstream ascent, we’re seeing Schumer on Schumer on Schumer. She doesn’t seem capable of acknowledging when she should and shouldn’t be the center of a cultural conversation—and people are noticing. I can’t imagine Snatched, which promises R-rated, white mother-white daughter fun in a third-world country, will do anything to fix—or focus—how haters will see her.