BY ALAINA LEARY
Talent: [noun] natural aptitude or skill. Chances are, there’s someone in your life that you think lacks talent, but is somehow still successful. Perhaps they had connections—they knew someone who knew someone—that got them that perfect job, got them into that Ivy League university, or that hooked them up to get their creative work noticed. Not all who are famous are the smartest or most creative, and it’s certainly true that many people’s breathtaking work remains largely unnoticed until post-mortem. Just look at Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Edgar Allen Poe.
Rebel Wilson made headlines recently for calling out Kylie and Kendall Jenner for exactly this. When Rebel was asked to present an award at the MTV VMAs with the pair, she refused. “It’s not that I hate any of them individually, but it’s just that everything they stand for is against everything I stand for," she said. "And they’re not famous for talent. I worked really hard to get where I’ve gotten to.”
I’ll lay my cards on the table right now: I don’t watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and I never will. In fact, I’m not even 100% sure that’s the title of their show. I don’t know if Kylie and Kendall are on it, or have their own show. Truth is, I’m just not into reality series, and that’s not necessarily the Kardashian family’s fault. I am, however, into most of what Rebel Wilson does. I’m a fan of Pitch Perfect, and I even enjoyed the train wreck that was Pitch Perfect 2. Rebel’s character, Fat Amy, is in my opinion probably what actually saved the movie from being a complete waste of time. I think Rebel is fresh with her candid humor in an overtly homogenous Hollywood.
That doesn’t necessarily mean I think Rebel’s right on the money. For one thing, her dismissal of Kylie and Kendall came from their empire—from the fact that it all started, according to pop culture legend, with Kim K’s sex tape. Kylie and Kendall may be known because of their family member’s naughty video, but that doesn’t exclude them by default from having talent.
In fact, TIME named both Kylie and Kendall in its 2015 list of Most Influential Teens. However, its reasons were shoddy at best. TIME named Kylie to the list simply for being the “most watched teen,” and they cited the #KylieJennerLipChallenge as an example. Kendall made the list because she has an “impressive fashion resume” and the most liked Instagram photo of all time, at 3 million likes.
Kylie and Kendall shared the list with other teen women such as Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize award winner, education advocate, and political activist; Chloe Kim, the youngest person to win gold at the X Games; Bindi Irwin, the daughter of Steve Irwin and known conservationist; and Olivia Hallisey, who invented a new test for Ebola. Plenty of the teens who made the TIME list are arguably in the spotlight because of family ties, including Jaden Smith, Malia Obama, and Bindi Irwin. The question here is this: can someone be talented even if they grow up in fame? Of course they can.
I’m not writing this to argue whether or not Kylie and Kendall have talent, or if Wilson was wrong about them. I don’t know Kylie, Kendall, or Rebel personally, and I find it impossible to accurately judge anyone’s talent without knowing with absolute certainty how much of it comes from the individual. When people are famous, it’s well known that a lot of what they say, wear, and do is scripted to some degree. Many music artists don’t write their songs, politicians have books ghostwritten in their name, and reality shows are not a clear depiction of reality. Kylie, Kendall, and Rebel probably all have someone who helps them write their Twitter posts, and helps them script what to say when they’re interviewed for a television show.
I appreciate Rebel’s frankness when approaching the subject, though. More than once, I’ve been in direct competition with others for a role or award and felt that the winner didn’t deserve it. When I found out who won the department-wide award at my high school, I was honestly hurt. I felt the person won simply because they were well liked and, for lack of a better word, a complete suck-up. I didn’t think I was the clear winner, either—there were a few people in my class I thought deserved to be awarded instead. It’s very difficult in our society to be a woman—and in Rebel’s case, a plus-sized woman—with an opinion that other people dislike. I’m usually in complete agreement with the argument that women should stop pitting against one another in catty competition, but I also think it’s perfectly okay to speak your mind when you feel something isn’t right.
Many commenters had something to say on the issue. People rushed to defend Rebel, saying that she’s right and they’re sick of hearing about the Kardashian-Jenners. Others pointed out that Rebel changed her name and often plays on her weight to achieve accolades and acting roles. Oprah was quick to defend Kylie and Kendall, saying that filming a reality show is harder than people realize.
Personally, the part that I have the most problem with isn’t people’s opinions of Kylie and Kendall, nor is whether or not the two are talented. It’s the fact that there are people out there who think Rebel is using her weight to her advantage, because they’re clearly missing the point. Rebel is working against a societal tradition to only cast thin women in lead roles and to use plus-sized and curvier women as a punch line only. Although I think Fat Amy is kind of a counterculture example, because she calls out Pitch Perfect for this trope within her character’s lines, I still have yet to see Rebel play the female lead in a comedy. I still have yet to see Rebel playing a lead role, period. Granted, it’s getting better. Melissa McCarthy has the leading role on Mike and Molly, even though in many of her recent films she’s still treated like a joke. My Mad Fat Diary is a British show with a plus-sized protagonist.
The problem I have with the industry isn’t which female celebrities have talent and which don’t, it’s the lack of roles available for someone like Rebel, who is hilarious and steals any scene she’s in. She’s not the main character of Pitch Perfect, but she should be. That entire series could have benefitted a great deal from just thinking about what its audience wants—a romance between Chloe and Beca, and more Fat Amy. It’s not even about ‘diversity’ anymore, because that’s just about lost its meaning. Audiences are just sick of seeing the same stories play out over and over again. Whether it’s Kylie and Kendall or Rebel Wilson gracing my screen, the only thing I want is to see is storytelling that’s truly fresh. That’s what talent means.