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Vanity Fair’s Whites Only Hollywood Cover

posted by Nell Minow

I look forward to Vanity Fair’s annual Hollywood issue every year. It always has fabulous photos of today’s top talent, often in salutes to some of the classic movie stars of the past. And it always has a selection of articles that are surprising and inventive, going way past the usual profiles of the usual subjects.
This year’s issue has some great material, including the article on the women behind the early Disney animation classics, as I have already reported. But I was terribly disappointed with its selection of the most promising newcomers to feature on the cover. It isn’t that any one of them is not impressive. Each of the young women has shown extraordinary talent and star quality. But how, in 2010, is it possible to have a collection of today’s top young female stars and have every one of them be white? How is it possible to overlook some of the most stunning, accomplished, and mesmerizingly watchable actresses on screen?
A young woman no one had ever heard of a year ago has been nominated for an Oscar for best actress for her very first film. We do see Gabourey Sidibe inside the magazine, with her co-star and director. But why isn’t she on the cover? In my opinion, the most dazzling breakthrough performance of last year was Nicole Beharie in “American Violet.” Why isn’t she on the cover? Where is Kerry Washington? Taraji P. Henson? Paula Patton? Meagan Goode? Sanaa Lathan? Keke Palmer? Gabrielle Union? Nia Long? Sophie Okonedo? Anika Noni Rose, star of “The Princess and the Frog” and “Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency?”
What 2009 movie became the biggest box office movie of all time? “Avatar.” And who was the female lead? Zoe Saldana. She was in another enormous box office and critical hit in 2009: “Star Trek.” Why isn’t she on the cover?
And why aren’t they starring in more studio films?

  • Candice Frederick

    not only am i outraged that they blantantly left out women of color, but some of the women they chose to include weren’t even that big and had no buzz. it was blatanlt ignorance

  • Dave

    In the wake of events like the Duke lacrosse rape case, I’d been left wondering if there’s really a need for activists like the Reverend Al Sharpton, who jumps on events like that early a ferociously and often makes a situation that’s fully under control and being handled into an unnecessary media circus. I’d come to wonder if America has reached a point where racism is *almost* a thing of the past.
    But then I see things like this, or Nell’s post a few months back about the black couple being left off the European version of the Couple’s Retreat movie poster (and relegated to the back of the lagoon in the U.S. version), and I realize that there are still pockets that didn’t get the memo regarding the civil rights movement, and that people of color no longer need to sit at the back of the bus.
    Now I’m a white male and I have to be honest, there are many things I do miss because I tend not to think in “color”. I might not have given a lot of thought to the U.S. movie poster with the black couple in the back (I didn’t see the movie, so for all I know, they were relatively minor characters in the film compared to the other couples, so I might have tended to think that was the reason for their placement and not a race thing), but they were at least in the movie – and thus to leave them off, whether you think in color or not, well that’s getting pretty obvious even to those of us who don’t think that way. And in this case, as has been noted, you get a big enough group of up-and-coming actors and some of them really aren’t generating that much buzz and some aren’t there are generating huge buzz, well when all the ones on the cover are of the same race, that starts getting a tad obvious. Even to a color-blind guy like me.
    It’s sad, really.

  • iorek

    You make an interesting argument in the abstract, but I don’t think it holds up very well in this case.
    If Vanity fair had done as you suggest and included Gabourey Sidibe, a grotesquely obese black woman, amongst all those svelte and lovely lily white women, the cover would be posted in every KKK meeting hall in the country. I don’t care how good an actress Sidibe is, the resulting poster would become the worst racist propaganda of the decade. Are you sure you want that? Are you sure that Sidibe would want that? Similarly, Zoe Saldana was the (talented) voice behind a ten foot tall computer generated blue creature in Avatar. The lines she emoted (through no fault of her own) were comically bad. No matter how much money James Cameron makes, does that qualify her to satisfy Vanity fair’s cover standards? The same question applies to the actress who was the voice for the princess in Disney’s animated cartoon, The Princess and the Frog?
    I think you are right to be prejudiced against prejudice, but just like every other kind of prejudice, yours allows you to gloss over inconvenient facts. That’s why they call it “prejudice.”

  • Nell Minow

    Iorek, you are completely wrong on this one. If they were going solely on the basis of beauty or sexiness, there are actresses on my list who qualify as everything from stunningly gorgeous to smoking hot. Most of them are both. If they were going on the basis of career prospects, Sidebe, Saldana, and many of the others are more than qualified. Saldana had a lot to contend with in playing a 10-foot-tall blue-skinned, non-English-speaking computer-generated character who had some clunky dialogue to deliver. But it was she, and not the technology, who gave that character life. Every gesture from the smallest lifting of an eyebrow or tear welling up in the corner of an eye to the fluidity and grace and downright eloquence of the body language came from her. She is an enormous reason that the movie was successful.
    How well do you know the actresses who were featured? What standard are you applying in saying that they represent some category the others do not? All of them are talented and lovely and many of them have movies coming out for release that should do well. But not one of them is more talented or more beautiful or has more prospects for creating great movies than the actresses on my list. I’m not sure that the current cover isn’t just as suitable as racist propaganda as the one you suggest. To me, a group of “future stars” that does not include one person of color in 2010 Hollywood, with dozens of black, Latina, Asian, Indian, and other great choices is more than disappointing or unfortunate. It is shocking and horrifying.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Dave. Well said.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Candice. They try to select performers they think are about to break through, so there are several not yet well known with big movies coming out. But I agree entirely that it was not just ignorant but narrow-minded and very foolish.

  • lizzie

    Keke Palmer? What has she done other than a tweenybopper, low rated kids show? NOTHING! she’s barely known.
    You are being racist now too. What about Asians? Brenda Song? Its not all about Africans.. the whole world does not revolve around African Americans, do you know how many times Asian AMERICANS have been unfairly snubbed from even having their name appear on Vanity Fair.

  • Nell Minow

    Keke Palmer was outstanding in “Akeelah and the Bee” but she really blew me away in “Shrink,” opposite Kevin Spacey. I think if you watch those films you will see that she is exceptionally talented. I would not say she is barely known, but she is not as well known as she deserves and will be, which is what the cover photo was about. So, your first point is wrong.
    As for your second, I thought as I was writing the comment about including Asians, Latinas, Native Americans, Polynesians, Indians, and actresses of other ethnicities and minorities — I should have. I am sorry to say that Hollywood is even more restrictive in those categories so I was not able to come up with a good list of names of actresses who, like the ones I listed, had recently appeared in mainstream films but were not well enough known to be already considered established stars (like Selma Hayek, Lucy Liu, Tabu, Jennifer Lopez, Devon Aoki, Maggie Q, Aishwarya Rai, or Gong Li).
    I welcome your suggestion of Brenda Song and would be glad to hear of anyone else you think should be included.

  • Cynthia, DFW

    Perhaps Vanity Fair thinks that women of color normally don’t read their magazine. Hence, they wouldn’t protest being under represented.
    Shame, after reading this, I won’t be encouraged to pick up Vanity Fair and read it any time soon, let alone buy it.

  • Andrew

    Is this serious? I didn’t realise how pathetic some of you Americans had become with all this colour coding everything. Do you really need a token minority in everything?
    Anyway the only three people I know from your little list are Kerry Washington, Gabrille Union and Zoe Saldana who are all well over 30 and have been around for years – hardly “break throughs”.
    Stop being such a self hating whitey and celebrate the talent of these young white woman. Just as the minorities celebrate their young people.
    Also don’t expect me to respond me you reply to this, I won’t come back to this blog again.

  • Nell Minow

    Andrew, I’m responding to your comment even though you won’t be reading it because others might. What I hear you saying is that the actresses on my list you had heard of are unsuitable because they’ve been around for a while while the actresses you had not heard of were not suitable because you had not heard of them. That doesn’t really leave any other options. And I did not see you applying that standard to the actresses who were included. What you seem to suggest is that each category should only celebrate their own members. The absurd inconsistency of that position is its own refutation. The bigotry in your comment is its own proof of the necessity of raising these questions. And the cowardice of your last line is the ultimate admission of your own insecurity.
    I made it clear in my post that the actresses on the cover are all lovely and talented. But so are the women who were not included. I celebrate the talent of all of them and wish Vanity Fair had done the same.

  • Nell Minow

    Thank you, Cynthia. I appreciate your support.

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