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Does Vanity Fair Hate Black Girls?

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I really couldn't believe the recent spread in Vanity Fair heralding the next generation of Hollywood starlets.

vanity fair new hollywood issue

Kimberly Allers: It was bad enough that they couldn't (or didn't try) to find at least one person of color to include in their annual "New Hollywood" spread in the March issue. They've been taking a little heat for this ridiculous oversight. What about Gabourey Sidibe from "Precious" and Zoe Saldana? Even as an Avatar, she was still in one of the highest grossing movies of the year.

I could have stomached the photo spread; I'm pretty much used to African Americans being excluded from mainstream Hollywood. But they really went too far with the descriptive language in the accompanying story with each waiflike actress getting her respective props for "downy-soft cheeks," a "button nose," "patrician looks and celebrated pedigree," "dewy, wide-eyed loveliness," or "Ivory-soap-girl features." Ivory soap-girl features???

But is this Vanity Fair's journalistic failure and a bad PR problem (hitting the stands during Black History Month no less. The horror!!) or just an accurate depiction of hot Hollywood these days?

Either way, as a mom raising a daughter, it sends dangerous messaging to all girls in general and African American girls in particular. We've often criticized the beauty industry for their unrealistic images of Barbie-like girls and women. We've told young girls they are beautiful as they are in all shapes, sizes, skin tones and features (Ivory soap or not), but then stories like these show the reality of the world all of our girls are growing up in. And what a challenge we have as moms to counteract these influences to raise confident, self-assured girls who love their bodies.

Quite frankly, I'm no fan of Hollywood lately, anyway. And if Sandra Bullock wins an Oscar for "The Blind Side," I will be on a very long personal boycott of the award show. I mean, yet another movie about a (albeit well-intentioned) white woman saving a large, menacing in appearance, from the hood with nobody else, black person. This blog isn't long enough for me to list the stereotypes in that Hollywood gem (Or in movies like "Dangerous Minds," "Freedom Writers," "The Soloist"). And this is Oscar-worthy movie making?? Puh-leeze.

Attention Hollywood: there a thousands of equally inspirational stories of African Americans saving themselves (gasp!) or white people too (double gasp!), but those don't get told because they don't fit into your stereotype of who we are.

But I digress. Slightly.

My point is Vanity Fair has a problem and Hollywood has an even bigger problem. When a major media outlet ignores its responsibility to represent all its readers and its messaging to the young girls who aspire to be in Vanity Fair (or Hollywood), that's just irresponsible journalism. Read: only "button noses" and Ivory-soap girls need apply.

Hollywood, on the other hand, has a more deeply rooted issue that concerns me as mom. For years, extremely talented black female actresses like Halle Berry, Regina King, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, Sanaa Lathan, Kimberly Elise, Nicole Ari Parker, Lynn Whitfield, Lela Rochon (I could do this for three more pages...) have lamented the dearth of quality movie roles (no crackheads please) available to black actresses. Meanwhile, Jennifer Aniston (no disrespect, I'm a huge fan, Rachel) has played the same exact character 50 million times with no end in sight.

Thankfully, my own little black girl has not mentioned any dreams of a Hollywood career because, even in this "Yes We Can" era, I'd feel some parenting compulsion to say, "probably not, sweetie." I wish I didn't feel that way. But this article only confirms my fears.

Unfortunately for us all, Vanity Fair did a great job of highlighting the inconvenient truth of exactly how Hollywood is. New or old.

** Editor's note: A rep for the magazine issued a statement saying, "Deciding who will appear on the Hollywood Issue cover -- and within the issue itself -- is a long process, and one we take seriously. For the young actresses on the cover, both films coming out this year and past work were taken into consideration, as were schedules and availability, since we had to shoot all nine actresses in a single day."

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73 comments so far | Post a comment now
Coral February 8, 2010, 10:37 AM

It’s always race with you huh?

Kimberly February 8, 2010, 10:39 AM

Yes, yes they do.

chris February 8, 2010, 10:51 AM

I love the story behind The Blind Side. Why does it matter if the family that took him in was white? Atleast he was taken in and given a chance he would have never had if he wasn’t. I’m sorry that you feel Hollywood isn’t black enough but they also aren’t fat enough or old enough for me but I don’t care. How many 40 to 50 yr old women are there who are overweight given the spotlight? not many. Personally, Hollywood doesn’t represent me on any level, rather it’s looks or attitude or lifestyle or politics so I don’t take anything about them as real.

Leah  February 8, 2010, 11:00 AM

“What about Gabourey Sidibe from “Precious” and Zoe Saldana”
Well neither has the experience in films that the other women do, pure and simple.

Kimberly, you need to stop making EVERY thing about race. Seriously.

CreoleInDC February 8, 2010, 11:08 AM

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the magazine hates Black girls but I will say that I sense a lack of diversity in the makeup of their staff regarding Black women and women who aren’t a size 6 or below.

It’s easy to “miss” something if you’re not in the um…”category” missing. For instance…it’s easy for me to notice a Black woman not being on the cover because I AM Black and am looking for something visual to identify with. If I were White…I would already have my identifying factor handled so I’m less apt to ask questions or wonder if something is missing.

I will also say that I’m not their audience so maybe they just know their audience REALLY well and pander to them. That’s neither unheard of nor impractical. “Vanity Fair” isn’t the standard for me. I don’t need them to tell me who is a star. I’m good. Give me “Real Simple” any day.

Christina February 8, 2010, 11:09 AM

I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed the all-white VF cover! While Hollywood may present an image of perfection (it is make-believe after all), I take issue with the idea that perfection is whites only. I don’t take anything about Hollywood as real, but I am a mother to two boys of multi-ethnic ancestry. They DON’T know it’s not real. At least not yet. Now, I can explain my heart out, but there is no getting around the fact that when they look around, magazine covers, book covers, pictures of kids IN books, etc. all feature predominantly white faces. It’s very frustrating. It’s not so much that it’s all about race (a term I despise), as it is about the invisibility. If you don’t see yourself, how do you convince yourself that you count or are valued as part of society?

Shannon February 8, 2010, 11:22 AM

Zoe Saldana was on the 2008 Young Faces of Hollywood Issue. Google it. But I see the point.

Gigohead  February 8, 2010, 11:32 AM

Well..if the author is getting grilled for making this about race, I’ll make it of culture to add fire to the flames. Zoe is not “of color”, but Hispanic..Dominican to be exact..that’s what I am. It would have been WONDERFUL to have seen her in VF or nominated for a Oscar.

friend February 8, 2010, 11:47 AM

what about the aspiring actors and actresses of other ethnic backgrounds?!?!?!? they’re even less depicted in hollywood movies. VF should put a person from each race!!!

BrookeJarae February 8, 2010, 12:02 PM

Um Gigohead, to be of color is does not mean you are black. It means you are not white and while i understand your wanting to clear that up, Zoe Saldana has stated that she considers herself to be a black woman, just look her up on the IMDB website. She is Dominican but if you are Dominican you know that there are black Dominicans as well, just like there are black Brazilians, Cubans etc. I didn’t want to make a comment on this because it’s a tired argument but it annoyed me to see that post. Also, i wish there were people of color on the the issue like Zoe Saldana but i think they didn’t pick her because well she’s 31 or 32. I don’t think anyone on that cover is over 26. But people like America Ferrera or Jurnee Smollett i would have loved to see. i think they are beautiful and brilliant young actresses. the last thing i wanted to point out is that it’s Vanity Fair! If it were People or something then i would be upset but VF caters to a certain audience and to be honest i’ve never purchased the magazine. i’ve looked through it sure but i never thought it was worth my money and i’m a fan of some of the actresses featured in this issue.

Amy February 8, 2010, 12:56 PM

“The Blind Side” was based on a true story, so I don’t think your criticism is really valid there.

Jeannine February 8, 2010, 1:32 PM

Really, the other movies mentioned were also true stories (Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, The Soloist). I agree that your criticism is not valid in this case. As a white woman, I find prejudice and stereotyping everywhere, not only from white people to black people, but the other way around and everyone to everyone else. Just today, looking at the Superbowl ads, there were several gender-stereotyping examples, but no one gets as riled up about that. It seems that it’s okay to be angry at white people for stereotyping others, but if other races stereotype, it’s somehow okay. I think that change starts with us—our culture and the way we think about race needs to change. Then, the media will begin to reflect that too.

Robert February 8, 2010, 2:01 PM

Again with race?!?! Why does it always have to come down to race?!?! If you dont like what somebody is doing ignore it. DONT turn it racial!!!

Oliver Chettle February 8, 2010, 2:19 PM

You are the one who is promoting racial prejudice. What you are advocating is that people should always be judged on their colour, and that where a group of people are all white, one of them should be excluded PURELY DUE TO THE COLOUR OF THEIR SKIN, in favour of a non-white, regardless of individual merit.

tired February 8, 2010, 2:44 PM

waa waa waa…..Vanity Fair can do whatever it pleases. What about the all black covers featuring no white people? Nobody ever whines about that. Find something more interesting to talk about instead of focusing on division, lets all focus on unity.

sam February 8, 2010, 3:57 PM

To all: It is about race. It has been about race since you decided that you were better than and superior to others that weren’t you. I honestly would like to know America when did you make up for the atrocity that you commited?

When were the trials held, to dispense justice to those that would violate the rights of others?

It has always been about race. It was about race when I couldn’t date your daughters or go to your schools, churches, etc…

I was born 1961 in Long Beach Ca. I was delivered in the hallway of the hospital because they didn’t allow negroes in the delivery rooms.

I live in a home built in 1949 that I purchased in 1999 the deed clearly states that this house couldn’t be owned by negroes.

So please, please, please save all that “you always bring up race” crap.

Wendy February 8, 2010, 4:26 PM

That was one of the first thing I noticed about the cover as I walked by it in passing. But I can’t believe people are surprised. Despite what Vanity Fair is trying to say their Upcoming actresses is always predominanlty if not exclusively white. Wasn’t it Emma Roberts, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, and other young white girls I can’t name off the top of my head last year? But whatever, I don’t but Vogue, Vanity Fair, or any of the “high fashion” magazines for this very reason.

Anonymous February 8, 2010, 4:49 PM

who cares?

Tat B Me February 8, 2010, 5:33 PM

WOW!!! You people will never understand what is being said because you are not African American… Puleez….you don’t have a clue.

just sayin February 8, 2010, 6:08 PM

They should have waited to run that story during white history month…oh yeah that’s right there is no white history month.

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