An old white dude once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Gabourey Sidibe, the de facto face of the body acceptance movement, doesn't want any of that responsibility.
On the most recent episode of "Empire," the writers made a "bold" move when they included a scene of Sidibe's character Becky having sex with her boyfriend, J Poppa. The scene was refreshing because it reminded us that, yes, plus-size women have -- and more importantly, enjoy -- sex, too. The scene shouldn't have been a big deal, but within seconds, so-called fans of the show started fat-shaming the 32-year-old actress.
"That scene was a lot bigger of a deal than I thought it would be," Sidibe told MTV News ahead of the Reel Works Gala Benefit in New York City, for which she is being honored Wednesday (Nov. 11) evening. "I thought it was something fun. It turns out it's a movement now, which is very strange, but delightful."
The scene not only spawned the trending hashtag #MyFatSexStory, but Sidibe herself felt compelled to respond to the drama on EW. "Also, yes. I, a plus sized, dark-skinned woman, had a love scene on primetime television," she wrote. "I had the most fun ever filming that scene even though I was nervous. But I felt sexy and beautiful and I felt like I was doing a good job."
Shortly after Sidibe posted her response, the conversation on her timeline started to shift. Since her Oscar-nominated performance in the 2009 drama "Precious," Sidibe has been hailed as the face of the body acceptance movement. Her groundbreaking and beautifully subversive love scene on TV's most-watched drama only cemented her place, but Sidibe has no interest in being the face of any movement.
"I don't want any responsibility ever. I'd prefer to pretend to be a 4-year-old. I'm not purposely trying to be the face of anything," she said. "This week has been very strange because I did one love scene, and I said one paragraph about it, and now my Twitter has been blowing up for the last five days. That's a lot of responsibility!"
"I don't necessarily do it on purpose, but the thing is I can't ever decide to be anything other than a plus-sized, dark skinned black actress. There are no other options... Being the face of this also isn't an option for me. It's just what comes along with it."
Sidibe's aversion to becoming the face of the body acceptance movement doesn't mean she's not proud to be a part of it. Becky's brief yet steamy scene inspired hundreds of other plus-size women to share their sex stories on Twitter.
"I'm really excited and moved that this one scene has spawned this movement and this other way for people to think," Sidibe said. "It looks like it's been really cathartic and beautiful for all these women who have this story and want to share it."
The overwhelming response to Sidibe's love scene proves just how vital diverse storytelling is to viewers. "Empire" shattered ratings records when it debuted last year. It's the highest-rated drama on TV. And it happened because a network finally realized it was good business to have a primetime schedule that looked more like America.
"I think what it takes is just casting someone who isn't the norm," Sidibe said. "The weird thing about representation on TV and diversity is that it's not necessarily my problem. I do have darker skin. I do have a different body. I do have different hair. It's not my problem because I'm the solution. In order to push diversity on television and film, all you have to do is push diversity. It's just that easy. Cast people that aren't blonde and stick-thin, and don't just cast the actors that are different, cast the writers that are different -- the producers, the storytellers, the directors. As long as you trust a different person to tell a story, then everything else will fall into place. Diversity has to start at the top."
The lack of roles available for women who looked like on film and television her even inspired Sidibe to create her own stories. Although she's pretty busy at the moment as a series regular on "Empire," the actress would eventually like to get her own stories off the ground. Because diversity isn't just about the cast or the directors or the producers, it's also about the story.
"I've always felt like I can't wait for the work to just show up; I'm going to have to make it," she said. "I hope that at some point, me making the work will come into fruition, but I think I've been very lucky that while waiting for the work to come, I don't usually have to wait very long... I don't usually chase things that I think will get me the most money or get me the most attention, I just go after roles that I really like -- and that has been paying off for me."
The need for more diverse stories in Hollywood is what lead the actress to get involved with Reel Works, a Brooklyn-based non-profit that provides free filmmaking courses for at-risk youth in the NYC area. For Sidibe, it's personal.
"I'm from the same place as a lot of these kids," she said. "I'm originally from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and I grew up in Harlem, and all I saw around me, all the time, where people who were just living to pay the rent. My dad was a cab driver, my mom was subway singer, my friends' parents were usually bus drivers -- and they were all doing these things just so they could support their families, which is admirable, but it wasn't exactly the careers they had fantasized about having as children."
"If you don't see what you want to do around you, then how would you know if it's real?" Sidibe added. "That's why programs like Reel Works are so important. When you're a kid and you say you want to work in film, you want to be a writer, in these neighborhoods, it's a fantasy that will never come true. Reel Works helps it become more of a reality for kids."
When Sidibe auditioned for the starring role of pregnant and abused teen Claireece Precious Jones in Lee Daniels's "Precious," she had no formal acting training. She auditioned for the role on a whim, after encouragement from a friend.
"It all happened very quickly," she recalled. "I went on my first audition on a Monday, I was hired that Wednesday, and we started shooting three weeks later. It happened sooner than I could decide that that was actually something I wanted to do. But as soon as I saw these $100,000 cameras and all of this equipment, and the fact that everyone was waiting for me, that's when I took it seriously and realized that this was something that was really happening. I was just trying my best not to screw it up."
She credits Daniels, who also co-created "Empire," with guiding her through the "exciting" and "terrifying" process.
"It's very important to have someone who is in the position that you want to be in guide you," she said. "Otherwise, you'd be flailing."
In fact, it was Daniels who calmed her nerves during Becky's big love scene on the Fox series. "He has always told me that I could do something that I wasn't convinced that I could do," Sidibe said. "So I would have to trust him. If he thinks I can do it, then I probably can do it because he's never wrong."
The Reel Works Gala Benefit 2015 honoring Alex Gibney & Gabourey Sidibe happens tonight (November 11) in New York City. To find out more about this charity that provides filmmaking opportunities for at-risk youth, check out their site at http://reelworks.org/.