So I was out all day prepping for an event, but came home to a serious internet debate over Vanity Fair’s most recent New Hollywood cover:
Writer Joanna Douglas (who I interned with back in the day) wrote an article on Yahoo’s Shine site, remarking that the cover featured actresses who were, “extremely thin and very, very white.” She continued, “We can think of a slew of non-white, non-rail thin actors who made a splash this year (Gabourey Sidibe from “Precious” anyone?)…Roles for black, Asian, and Latin actors are scarce in Hollywood, but surely Sidibe, Zoe Saldana of “Avatar” and “Star Trek,” and Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire” are having their moment. Vanity Fair may have been looking for the most promising batch of talent for their issue, but they should have been looking for a diverse group of women as well.”
Over 18,000 people responded, most maintaining that Vanity Fair is a white magazine, and that all black publications and networks are also guilty of playing in the non diversity game. Commenter Amber summed up the general sentiment, saying, “Why is it when there is all white people on the cover, the magazine is being racist, but, when there are no white people involved, you can’t say anything? Isn’t this called double standards and I get pretty tired of seeing that.”
Magazines like Essence and Latina were created because national publications historically ignored and devalued the contributions of African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos. Very concentrated niche groups set out to make magazines that spoke to them about the issues, stars, and news that mattered to them.
While a few crossover stars like Beyonce and Rihanna can land the covers of mainstream mags like Vogue and Glamour, a seasoned actress like Gabrielle Union might not have it so easy. While we all loved Gabby in “Daddy’s Little Girls” and “Deliver us from Eva,” the larger American population might not be familiar with those films. Still, Gabrielle is talented, beautiful, and well liked, so of course, magazines like Essence have to give her the shine a broader magazine might not.
The problem occurs when mainstream magazines like Vanity Fair, that supposedly cater to a diverse audience, systematically ignore a large percentage of its readership. On its website, Vanity Fair says, “From world affairs to entertainment, business to fashion, crime to society, Vanity Fair is a cultural catalyst that drives the popular dialogue globally.” Essence never claimed to be for every person. On its website, Essence says it’s about, “Black Hairstyles, Black Women, Celebrity Photos, Entertainment News, Celebrity Gossip.”
Vanity Fair can claim to be about whatever it wants to be. If they want to just focus on socialites (as they typically do), then they should change their mission statement to say, “All about fashion, politics, and entertainment for the rich, white, and well heeled.” If you’re going to be exclusive, then claim it! But don’t say you’re about a global discourse and popular culture, then publish a magazine that totally lacks a global, popular outlook. Global implies diversity and also an honest acknowledgment of what truly constitutes popular culture. As Douglas said, Gabourey Sidibe is certainly making a splash and is a popular subject in the public discourse.
It’s fine to have your magazine be about whatever you want it to be! The Fashion Bomb was always about urban fashion; if urban fashion isn’t for you, then you are certainly free to find a site that is geared towards a general audience. But if you’re global, be global, and if you claim to cater to everyone, then do it! It is your duty. And if you’re not. Stop fooling yourself.