DR. BOYCE: Vanity Fair’s All White Cover Shows Lack Of Progress

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Perhaps being incredibly thin and incredibly white is now all the rage.  Vanity Fair Magazine recently released a cover consisting of it’s stars for tomorrow, and the cover makes you want to do a double-take.  The magazine presents nine women whom it believes to be “the new Hollywood” for the next decade.  Apparently, the next decade of Hollywood is expected to be even more segregated than the Hollywood of today.

On the cover, the magazine presents a long list of incredibly talented young actresses, but the image reminds you of a picture taken in the 1920s at some mediocre university in the south.  Not a black woman in sight, and even the white women all look alike. I am not sure where they were going with this, but it’s a wee bit discouraging.

Perhaps Vanity Fair is deliberately following the “racial controversy trend,” given that the magazine was accused of an ethical lapse just a few weeks ago when it published an image of Tiger Woods “raw,” describing him as a crazed “sex addict” with a harem.  Interesting that this just happens to align with the popular perception of black men as sexually undisciplined animals which has been pervasive in our society for hundreds of years.

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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.  Rarely, if ever  is a black man or woman even given a second thought as an ethical, courageous and skilled hero in a film.  Two major exceptions are  “GI Joe” and “The Book of Eli,” one of which still made the black hero into a clown (GI Joe), while the other film was directed by two African American men (The Hughes brothers).   You might also remember the movie “Hancock,” where Will Smith plays the hero, presenting us with a drunken, foul-mouthed, undisciplined convict.  Thanks a lot Hollywood, our kids needed that.

Vanity Fair apparently takes cues from Vogue Magazine, who seemed to believe that Lebron James looks remarkably similar to a gorilla.   Are we noticing a pattern here?  Black men continue to be portrayed as thugs and animals, while black women are not being portrayed at all.  For years, incredibly talented actresses such as Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard and Regina King have been ignored by the Hollywood elite, even though their talent is every bit as remarkable as the most successful actresses of our day.  This is probably not going to change very much, at least not very soon.

What’s the answer?  Black people need to own things.  We need to own magazines, websites and other channels of promotion for talented African American entertainers.  He who controls the vehicle of communication ultimately determines the message that is being communicated.  Additionally, we should be the ones in position to raise money to green light new films.  When we are making the decisions, the outcomes tend to have an element of ethnic equality that you don’t usually see in traditional Hollywood portrayals.

For every dollar spent by an African American reading the silliness of Vanity Fair, I am hopeful that we spend a dollar’s worth of time realizing that Vanity Fair does not have to be the bible for all that occurs in Hollywood.  We’ve got the ability to manage our own destiny if we will simply embrace it.  We should not be owned by anyone.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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