Lizzo makes no apologies for showcasing her beautiful figure in every way, and now, she’s helping others do the same in her new Prime Video reality dance competition series, Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls. In the series, talented dancers vie for a spot as one of the background dancers for her tour. The women are proving that size doesn’t matter, and in many cases, they are better.
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Nneka Onuorah directed the series. She’s most known The Same Difference and some of her other credits of her’s include Netflix original docuseries First and Last, the Vice docuseries My House and Dee Rees’ Netflix film The Last Thing He Wanted.
But she’s beyond proud to lend her talents to Lizzo’s first project in her overall deal with Amazon Studios. Onuorah spoke with Shadow and Act about working with Lizzo, growing relationships with the women on the show, why the project is long overdue,and her hopes for the future and impact of the show.
S&A: How was it working with Lizzo for her first project on Amazon?
NO: Working with Lizzo was incredible. I enjoyed her humor [and the] empathy that she had for the women that we had on this show. The girls were just so inspiring, and I love how Lizzo decided to use her platform to help amplify their voices in their stories. She was very easy to direct any creative ideas I wanted to try and she was open to. She had my back all the way through. It is just like a pleasure and honor to work with a talent like her.
What are some standout moments that are kind of embedded in your brain throughout the filming process?
[One of] the parts of the process embedded in my brain [is] really the fact of how real some of the women are with the obstacles the women had going on in their lives. It became so real for me when Sydney did the music video in the music video episode because beyond directing the show, I was able to interact with them in a more intimate way. And Sydney had this gym obsession constantly, and in that episode, everything didn’t make it in the final cut, but I had to download that just from observing her and spending time with her that she was dealing with an eating disorder. And that’s something that I knew throughout how she felt staying in the house that she was dealing with, and we were able to connect on that and see her stories, and I was able to support her through that journey of sharing that with us on the show. That stuck with me because it’s like one thing to watch a show and see the confident, bold, beautiful side of people, but to know what people have to go through to get to that place of confidence in that place of security and that place of standing tall in your authenticity and your rawness.
It takes a lot of work and it’s a journey. So that made it even more real to me. It was already real to me, but you focus in on the dance sequences often, and it’s important to know the why behind everything snd so spending time with the girls in the house to see what they were really going through was so special. And as we continue our relationship after this show, it’s beautiful to see how they blossom now and see how they overcome those obstacles and also help keep them on track so that they don’t fall back into the old patterns and stuff like that. So they have become like little sisters to me now. The most memorable thing is just realizing how real the show is.
This is such a cool concept for a show because I've watched so many reality dance competition series. One of my favorites is ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ on Fox, and I remember every season they'd always have one dancer that would make it through that wasn't necessarily the traditional body type of a dancer. It was always such a big deal to the judges, and the judges will always be so stunned by how good they were. But it was like the judges viewed them as being from out of space or something. With that in mind, how long overdue do you feel a show like this is?
A show like this is way overdue. I think often there’s different things that happen in the reality format that do not happen in the show. We had those pillars from the beginning of the show where we do not tear others down. And there’s no victimization in this show. It is bright and bold. We were very intentional about the colors and romanticizing the beauty of the girl’s curves, rolls, her lips, everything. We wanted to make it beautiful and celebratory and make it a front runner and the norm. I don’t want people to be surprised anymore.
I feel like we just want to bust the door open and be like, ‘Yo, this is what it is. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Dancers come in all shapes and sizes.’ And if you see the level of athleticism in these women, that should show that there should be a normalization of people understanding that just because a woman is plus size doesn’t mean that she is unhealthy, [it] doesn’t mean that she can’t move her body. It is false because these girls worked their behinds off, over and over and over again. And I think that we made sure we use that as a center.
We wanted to have happy moments, not just dwell in sadness or victimhood, but really be able to show the story in the pain that everyone goes through, but also just show how triumphant and powerful they are. They’re the most confident women I ever met in my life. I was inspired daily by how they were able to get on the next episode into a nude photoshoot. I could never do that. They let their hair out. They just did so many things and took a great level of vulnerability in this society.
Vulnerability is so shunned. So most of us are hiding behind computer screens and plastic surgeries and different things like that. But these women are just letting themselves shine. And I think it’s a beautiful thing to see in the fact that we were able to bring that element to a dance show and uplift and the competition was then within ourselves. I think that was a powerful move, and it was one of the reasons that I even decided to become a part of this.
You spoke a lot about how bold and confident the women are and that they are more confident than the average. Lizzo has been at the forefront of body positivity, and while she has a lot of support, there are some people who are also critical. So how do you feel like this show combats that?
This combats that by having this show altogether. We have like 3 billion views on TikTok. We have an army. It’s just normal. It’s like we are normalizing it. When we say ‘watch out for the big girls,’ it is inspiring. That means not just big in figure, but big heart, big energy. And I think there’s no room for critics. They don’t have any space. I haven’t heard anything. I think we’re too busy dancing and moving and living in that good energy, which is so infectious.
I don’t want to act like it [criticism] doesn’t exist in the world, but right now we focus on the positivity and the light that this show has brought to the world. It has brought so much light and so much inspiration.
Someone wrote to me on Instagram today talking about how the show itself just inspired them, even as a person who’s not plus-size. So it’s inspiring to all people and it’s a spiritual movement. So I feel like no negative experience can really exist because these women and this movement are the majority and it is the front runner. I feel like it’s been able to negate anything that could even try to stand up because it’s like God in the material.
The world of dance has changed a lot because music videos aren't necessarily central to the culture as they once were. But there are new opportunities, like touring, Broadway productions and luckily, the internet has been great. So what do you want to expose about the art of dance and the industry of dance through the show?
The art and industry of dance needs to open up its doors to diverse bodies. It needs to loosen up on its expectations of artists because I think a lot of times there’s so much pressure put on artists to be skinny, to be in shape. And that looks one specific Eurocentric way. I think that that is causing a lot of artists to have pressure for them to be smaller and their dancers and teams. And so I think we need to loosen up that mandate and allow for diverse bodies to exist just because it shouldn’t be only if there’s a Plus-Size artist that there should be Plus-Size dancers.
You see Lizzo’s dancers in a variety of sizes. I feel like that should be the same for anyone’s dancers, Cierra’s dancers, Beyonce’s dancers, whomever.Beyonce used to have the big girl backup singers as well. And so I think all facets of performance need to have women of all sizes, women who act on television who are plus size. In TV and film projects, it doesn’t mean that you need to put a Plus-Size woman with a Plus-Size man. I think we need to just revolutionize the idea that being a Plus-Size woman is a supporting role or role to hype up someone who’s smaller. I think that’s played out. I think we need to create more space for these women in leading roles and being in the front.
Would you like to have a Season 2 of the show?
I think there needs to be 100 seasons of this show. There were so many seasons of America’s Next Top Model.
There’s so much more to do. There’s so much more work to do. There’s so many more mediums and platforms to bring to light. I feel like we took a very immersive approach and I think people like watching shows in that way. Being able to do more of that [creatively] in another season will be epic.
Lizzo’s Watch Out For the Big Grrrls is now streaming on Prime Video.