Decorated actress Viola Davis posed elegantly in a royal purple dress and a large Afro, in a photo lensed by Dario Calmese for Vanity Fair.

Dario Calmese is the first black artist to photograph a cover for Vanity Fair in its 107 year history. In an Instagram post, Calmese wrote, “Welcome to my Protest,” before revealing that Davis’s pose was inspired by that of a slave “Whipped Peter, turned backward to show his scars from the whips of slavery (Peter Gordon, or “Whipped Peter”, was a slave who fled a Louisiana plantation in March 1863, and later gained freedom at a Union camp near Baton Rouge. He was a frequent subject of photographs showing the extensive keloids and scarring on his back from whippings received while enslaved).

Calmese explained, “Thank you to every black woman who’s felt invisible despite being on the front line of every fight. We see you. You are loved, you are powerful, and you are beautiful. This is for you. 

Comments for the cover were overwhelmingly positive, but few could help but compare the lighting and beauty to that of a recent Vogue cover featuring Olympic Gymnast, Simone Biles. Photographed by Vogue go-to, Annie Leibovitz, the cover was criticized, with naysayers complaining that the lack of lighting caused Biles to look dull.

@adeeeola wrote, “I love that Simone Biles got put on the Vogue cover, but they really did her dirty. She looks so washed out…even her Instagram photos are 10x better lit.” @lostblackboy added, “Someone please teach Annie Leibovitz how to light black skin.” 

With the cover title, “Standing Up, and Speaking Out,” Biles shows off her back as well, in a bathing suit, with straightened, tousled hair cast casually over her shoulder.

Leibovitz has been criticized for her Vogue covers in the past, namely a Shape Issue ca April 2008 featuring Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen that seemed to mimic a famous World War I recruitment poster from 1917.

The artist and inspiration are important in telling our stories with pride.

2020 seems to the year of taking control of our image and narrative.

What do you think?

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