The current “Vanity Fair is racist!” brouhaha involving the shades-of-alabaster cover of their Young Hollywood has been covered quite well by a variety of other blogs and websites:
From Jezebel: “What does “Young Hollywood” look like? According to Vanity Fair, it’s pretty, thin, female and white.”
From USA Today: “Where are any women of color? Gabourey Sidibe, for example, who just got an Oscar nomination for Precious? Or Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire?”
From Dr. Boyce Watkins at News One: “The recent Vanity Fair cover reminds us that the minds of Hollywood haven’t changed all that much. There is still an image of the hero and superstar, a person with virtues that are pure, honest and brave. That person is usually white.”
My take: what did we expect from Vanity Fair and Graydon Carter? (On a purely superficial note, I must admit an ongoing amusement/fascination with the name Graydon. Graydon could either be an elderly taxi driver from Tobago, or be Mr. Burns’ secret middle name. I digress).
My memory is young, so please correct me if I’m wrong…but isn’t Vanity Fair kind of known for being out of touch, and frequently exclusionist? Didn’t they just post that telling cover photo of Tiger Woods? Does this magazine not thrive on bouts of controversial, usually photography-inspired chatter? Isn’t this kind of thing to be expected?
Nothing about this Vanity Fair hubbub is surprising, or new to me. And I do believe, by being mad, we’re giving Graydon and company exactly what they want — controversy, which they hope will manifest itself as newsstand sales.
And sadly, I wasn’t surprised by the reaction I’ve been noticing around the web. When author Joanna Douglas covered the Vanity Fair topic on Yahoo blog Shine, she got more than 18,000 comments. Sprinkled among those were death threats. And many, MANY of those comments expressed outrage that anyone would question the lack of diversity of VF’s photo shoot. The typical commenter seemed to be angry that magazines like Ebony and Essence, and channels like BET can feature all-black celebrities with no protest, but Vanity Fair can’t. Many commenters also seemed to think the Fair of Vanity Fair meant they were a magazine meant for Caucasian readers. And people are on there saying things like “seriously, this diversity crap is getting really annoying!”
Almost all of the commenters never considered why a magazine like Ebony or Essence may have come to be — to highlight and feature beautiful, talented women of color. The kind of women who have so often been excluded from magazines…like Vanity Fair.
These are the kind of people that come out of the woodwork on Black Voices and Black Atlas and leave thousands of hideous comments. They Google articles and websites that are dedicated to black readers, and they make them the target of online ire. They are incensed with rage that there are websites and magazines and television channels for black people, that exclude white people. And when the pot gets stirred, they will leave the nastiest, most incendiary comments you can imagine.
Kate Harding did a marvelous post on this at Salon where she underlined the obvious. “Not thinking about realistic representation is incredibly easy for white people to do — and I absolutely include myself in that — but you know what helps? People pointing it out. People saying, hey, in America in 2010, putting nine white people on a cover meant to represent the future of our film industry is backward and unreasonable. You don’t even need to go as far as “offensive,” a word that sends some people into such a “Gah, the p.c. police are after me!” tailspin, it’s hardly worth saying even when it’s true. In this case, we can just go with “illogical” or “nonsensical” or “utterly divorced from reality.” Like, what planet are you living on, where white people are the only ones worth mentioning?”
Well, we’re unfortunately sharing the same planet that those Yahoo commenters live on. These are the same people who perpetuate lies about the President — the same people Keith Olbermann spoke about in his amazing President’s Day special comment. These folks are quick to speak out about black progress, and how angry it makes them. They feel the earth shifting under their feet and it frightens them. And right now Vanity Fair is their pick for print publication of the year — despite the fact that Vanity Fair doesn’t speak to their demographic either.
I have yet to read a response from Vanity Fair itself, but finally folks in the media have started asking the girls who have been suggested for the cover, how they feel about being excluded.
Just last night on Access Hollywood, Shaun Robinson interviewed Gabby Sidibe about all of this. And she was awesomely flip about it.
“At first I thought…hmmm, shouldn’t I be there? And then I very quickly got over it. I think if I were a part of that I would have felt a little left out anyway. Whether I should have been there or not doesn’t matter because I wasn’t on it. And I’m excited to be mentioned anywhere, and it doesn’t matter to me where I’m not mentioned.”
Shaun continued: “Do you realize that you’re such a role model for young girls who don’t see themselves on the cover of the magazines?”
“And I’ve been there, I’ve been in class with the other girls, and the teacher would say oh – to another little girl — oh, you can be a model, and you can be an actress… and Gabby, thank God you’re so smart. And it’s like, really?? It’s hard to grow up and not see images that remind you of yourself.”
Meanwhile, Gabby Sidibe is nominated for an Oscar. Zoe Saldana starred in one of the biggest Hollywood releases in history. And Vanity Fair is gonna keep on being Vanity Fair until the wheels fall off. I won’t be buying it, and I know many other who feel the same way. I’m pretty sure most of those 18,000 commenters on Yahoo won’t be subscribing to VF, either. Will any of these articles and blog posts and angry comments change anything? Probably not. And that’s unfortunate.
This is the kind of post that doesn’t have a conclusion, per se. So I ask — what are your thoughts, bellas?