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‘Riverdale’ Star Madelaine Petsch Has A Message For The Choni Shippers

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Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

It’s way more than just a kiss

It’s no secret that Cheryl Blossom and Toni Topaz (aka Choni) have become the couple to ship in the Riverdale universe, arguably even eclipsing the beloved Bughead. After being shipped off to the Sisters of Mercy compound, in what was a controversial gay conversion therapy plotline, Cheryl was rescued by Toni, and the two shared a kiss that immediately set the internet ablaze.

The vast outpouring of fan love is not lost upon Madelaine Petsch, who plays Cheryl on the CW show. Turns out, Cheryl’s sexuality was something she and showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had been discussing since the first season, so Petsch said it was important to her to bring queer visibility to one of TV’s most popular contemporary series "with care and grace." “So many kids messaged me telling me that this is a similar story to their experience and that their parents felt the same way about them, and that scene is helping them,” she tells us. “It's hard enough to play that, but knowing it actually happens to people makes me want to hold them in my arms and hug them and tell them that they are accepted.” 

In honor of the launch of her Privé Reveaux collection and ahead of the highly-anticipated musical episode, we sat down with Petsch to delve a little deeper into Choni’s relationship, as well as the importance of their relationship’s visibility within an industry that still tends to skirt around depictions of bisexual women. Read our Q&A, below.

What did you think about the crazy reaction to Choni finally kissing?
I'm so happy about it. Vanessa [Morgan, who plays Toni] has actually been my best friend for a very long time. Roberto and I had also discussed Cheryl’s sexual orientation in Season 1. I was like, "She's definitely not straight." There's so much more to her than what we've seen so far, so we really wanted to develop that in Season 2. It was very nerve-racking, because we wanted to make sure we did it with care and grace. But I think the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. I'm really happy to bring bisexuality to TV, because you don't see that often on television, especially with women. I find that so interesting because most of my friends—my female friends—are bisexual. It's just the majority of our generation... and I don't think you see it on television still.

It just makes sense with her character, too. When we really delve into it, Cheryl's got this mean exterior and facade, but then you find out that her mom has hated and [repressed] a really huge part of Cheryl for her entire life. She caught Cheryl in bed with a girl and told Cheryl that she's deviant and disgusting—so Cheryl hated herself growing up. 

Speaking of said kiss, I know you were just talking about snotting all over Vanessa.
Oh my god, I almost tweeted that: “Vanessa Morgan is a champ because I was crying in the scene previously and I still had snot running down my face and every single time she ate my snot like a pro.” They were like, "We want you to be fully sobbing and then when she gets in, you stand up.” So, I did it and the first take she was like, "Salty." I was like, "That's really disgusting,” but she just totally rolled with it. I was like, "Thank god, that was my best friend, because that would be so embarrassing [had it be anyone else]." Imagine if they were like spitting it out after every take. I'd be crumbled inside. 

On a more serious note, as her best friend, what did you think about all that hate Vanessa was getting before Season 2 even aired? When everyone thought Toni was going to get in the way of Bughead?
I was very adamant, actually. I put out a YouTube video on my channel with her, introducing her to the Riverdale world. I was saying, "Guys, you need to stop treating her like this. You don't really know what's gonna happen with the story." Oddly enough, the same people who hated her, now are obsessed with her character because she's dating my character. They love that.

People are so invested in the Riverdale couples. Like, the shipping is on a whole other level.
I'm scared of it, but I feel really fortunate to be on a show that people are so passionate about. So I don't really feel like I need to delve into it too much—just that I have people who care enough about what I do every single day, [to the point where] they feel strongly enough to message me, being like, “This person shouldn't have done this to this person.” It's also like, “Wow, thank you for spending so much time finding little Easter eggs on the show that's only an hour long every week.”

Riverdale fans are hard-core sleuthers; what would you say has been your favorite fan theory so far?
I was reading them the other day actually, and there was something really funny—that Archie is actually a lost Blossom. But I was like, "There's no way I'm gonna allow that because I've already kissed him,” and there's no incest in Riverdale. There are a lot of Blossoms in Riverdale, but I don't think the Andrews are one of them.

But the fans, they really are excellent sleuthers. This is really off-topic, but before I became public with Travis [Mills], my boyfriend, I remember I had a dress in the background of one of his selfies hanging over a car seat. He had taken a selfie with just a little piece of orange in the back, and then I wore the dress that night to an event. And fans put those two photos together! They were like, “Madelaine Petsch is dating Travis Mills, because this is the dress she wore to this event, and this was in the back of his selfie.” And I was like, "We haven't even posted together. We just follow on Instagram and people have already figured it out.” That's how good of sleuthers they are. It's kind of awesome that people are that interested in what I do, because I don't know why they would be.

You're also obviously not Cheryl though, but sometimes this weird conflation with you and your character happens—like in Vanessa’s case. Was that ever kind of weird for you? 
I mean, I guess it kind of comes with the territory. I knew what I was getting myself into, but I also made a YouTube channel to show people that I'm not Cheryl because it's hard for people to differentiate between a character they see on television and a person who plays the character. But by creating that YouTube channel, it has created a separation for me and Cheryl, which is healthy because she's been such a mean character on the show. Or, at least, up until the last couple episodes. [In the meantime, my channel] showed them that I'm not that person at all, and I think that's helped with the fans. It's a lot less hate.

Riverdale airs Thursdays on the CW.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.