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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."

next: Dad Waterboards Daughter Over ABCs
73 comments so far | Post a comment now
negril February 11, 2010, 11:10 PM

First of all…Dominican is a nationality not a race. Most Dominicans have an issue with their skin color. To the Dominicans out there who are having color issues…you are descendants of the African woman/man brought to hispanola by the French and Spanish. Embrace you motherland. Spain and France don’t acknowledge you as a Spainard or French. Get over it!

Vanity Fair is Vanity Fair….it is what it is..that’s Y I read Essence.

You know Hollywood love “saviour” movies ! Yes, the story is true and I commend the woman that assisted in the young brother’s life when he was left out in the cold. Would we have come to his aid?

So people…breathe and take Hollywood and Vanity Fair for what they are worth…..crap.

negril February 11, 2010, 11:22 PM

This is 4 you CreoleInD:

History of Les Gens De Couleur Libres…The Free People of Color in New Orleans….
From the colonial days of New Orleans to the present time, a unique group of people has contributed to the most European city in America. They were the “Gens de Couleur Libres”, the Free People of Color. Today, commonly known as “Creoles” or “Creoles of Color”, their descendants live in all parts of the country. Some have kept the language and culture bestowed upon them by their ancestors, some have lost this heritage to a more “American” way of life. The purpose of this web site is to educate others about the Creoles of the 19th century and to help present day Creoles learn more of their wonderfully rich heritage.

From the earliest days of New Orleans history, free persons of color have coexisted with those of European extraction. Some were former slaves who were able to buy their freedom. City dwelling slave masters would often “lease out” slaves for manual labor along the docks and to other businesses in need of labor. Slaves would be allowed to keep a portion of fees charged to “lessors” for themselves, eventually allowing them to buy their freedom. Children of slave women and white owners were often given their freedom either upon the death of the father or while still young. Thousands of free people of color arrived in New Orleans from Saint- Domingue (now Haiti) after the Slave revolts in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Many also came to New Orleans by way of Cuba after 1809. Although they did not have all of the rights of their white counterparts, many free people of color prospered in 19th century New Orleans As of the 1850’s, The Free People of Color owned over 2 million dollars worth of property.

Candace February 12, 2010, 12:43 AM

I have not had a chance to read every comment, but re: The Blindside, the actual young man who this story was based on said that it WAS based on his life, but there were a lot of things that were added and are just “Hollywood”. Like when she was telling him how to play football. Also, before he came to live with this family, he had a black coach who was very instramental in getting him on the right path.
So it is true, “Hollywood” always goes for the “Great White Hope”, but I think that the true story is even better!

Karen February 12, 2010, 11:57 AM

Great Article! I don’t care what Vanity Fair has to say because I don’t buy or subscribe to the magazine. The exclusion of women of color is a testament of how far we’ve come in the media and hollywood. There are other new faces in Hollywood that are a shade of brown. The excuse from the magazine that these girls were selected b/c of their work is BS! These girls been in one to three movies literally. Sidebe and PINTO from slumdog wouldve been an excellent addition. Shame on you Vanity Fair. I save my money and buy Glamour. Their magazine depicts women from all ages, shades, and shapes.

Violet February 12, 2010, 7:04 PM

I cannot believe the amount of racist comments made to this article.

Sure, maybe (maybe) Vanity Fair only got these women based on their merit, but let’s not forget how many more white women get leading roles than women of color. So if these women of color do not get the opportunity to act in a movie, because *gasp* they are not white, should it not the the responsibility of mass media Magazines to take this obvious discrimination into consideration? How are we to de-normalize white-only culture if we do not confront these things upfront?

Also, even if Blindside is a great story, the fact remains that Hollywood is a HUGE fan of making movies where a white person goes into people of color’s life and “saves” them. I do not care if it is real, it isn’t the only reality out there.

Yes, it is always about race, until white-skin preference is eradicated from our culture and society.

Robert February 13, 2010, 10:07 AM

It’s always a problem if whites ever make a standout for their own identity. There are magazines that are made for other races specifically and no one says they don’t whites. Why? Because everyone is now almost by instinct saying whites are racists if they don’t include any other race.

Let’s take into account are the other continents. Africa and Asian are made up by 99.9% of their own native population, and do you hear complaints that they don’t diversity?

No, because diversity is all about whites saying to themselves we need to bring all the other races in because we need to have all their differences interacting (more correctly interfering) with us. Seriously, wouldn’t you prefer to take in relations with other races at your pace than have diversity force us together uncomfortably? That’s why we still have majority neighborhoods and are fleeing when immigrants are overrunning at a uneasy rate.

Whites are just too considerate of other races that it’s hurting us. Like we are having an identity crisis where we feel we shouldn’t have right to an identity of our own.

I mean there are no troubling issues of races in the other continents. It’s as if we decided inflict ourselves with this pain by making them come here, whether by slavery in the past and now inviting them in through immigration. Though there’s no form of assimilation for the 3rd World immigrants now as it us to then when it was Europeans of Europe living with Europeans in the USA.

Whites are a just as much of race and culture as all others and now if we dare make an indication of our ‘own’ identity, we are called ‘racists’ as if we are the only exceptional race in the world that shouldn’t have one.

If you want equality, don’t have leave people out as exceptions. Every other race is saying they “Have the right to be who” out loud while whites are being silenced.

I am by no means a racist. I’ve had a history of great relationships with every race. And while having these friendships, I still have a racially conscious mind rather than be racially blind. Isn’t blindness a handicap that no one likes? And wouldn’t also be a form of ignorance? I say we should be acknowledged by who we are in all things considered, by strengths and weakness and a unique identity that makes us who we are, including my own Caucasian race.

Cassie February 17, 2010, 5:00 AM

I’m so very disappointed in Vanity Fair. I always thought it was a very classy, fair magazine. Being a woman of color and having two daughters who I would always buy their own copy of Vanity Fair magazine, I must now decide never to buy it again.

Kal February 18, 2010, 5:54 PM

More of this race stuff? No wonder it still exists when people like you make such a big deal out of stupid crap. Go and attack people that are in the KKK.

When are people going to realize that skin color = Melanin and NOTHING ELSE.

Yogi February 21, 2010, 12:51 PM

I agree Gabby and Zoe should have been on the cover, especially Gabby since Zoe was already on a VF cover. Unfortunately as sweet and talented as Gabby is, her weight is gonna keep her off of a lot of mainstream covers. And don’t knock The Blind Side. It was a wonderful film and an uplifting story. What that family did was amazing and it’s unfortunate, Michael Oher did not have any relatives who could take him in and help him get to where he is today. God used those people regardless of their color to help that young man, and that’s all that should matter.

kenyatta February 24, 2010, 9:48 AM

Ok, first, as for Sandra Bullock—that is a true story, so that is actually how it happened. I fully get that the white man(woman) stepping in and saving the day is old, tired and not always realistic, but this is actually what happened in that NFL player’s life. Ok, with that said, I fully get that Vanity Fair is bias—even if not intentional. It is sad, but I would rather have the buzz and Golden Globe, Sag, Oscar nominations. I’m not dismissing it, but when I pick up Vanity Fair, I really don’t expect it to be like Essence, Ebony even People. I fully understand the anger, but we have to realize that this is not a perfect world and this is what happens. All we can do is continue to talk to our children, the younger generation, continue to read culturally diverse literature, watch diverse movies and shows and grow as a people. We really have to stop worrying about what others do because they are really so use to doing something that it becomes second nature. All we can do is hope that it keeps getting better, and just keep watching our black president and his black family. We have so much to cheer about that a cover means nothing.

Elles101 February 24, 2010, 5:33 PM

Exposure and lack of it - that is the problem. There are so many beautiful and talented young black male and female actors. They just don’t get the high exposure jobs - they are not cast. So how can they be known. Circular argument, I know. Its a real shame. I wish there was more colour blind casting. My main issue though is that in Hollywood, anything to do with colour/race is an issue about colour race. Why can there not be a programme where there is a love story, two leads happen to be of different races, black white but not an issue. Never in America, ever, I think. Whereas, in other countries not an issue. America is obsessed with black white issue. Please explain why. i would love to know.

Marcus Thayer March 13, 2010, 12:05 PM

I love it when a post posits on a relevant perspective, puts talking points to a possible disparate state of a major magazine, and THEN gets labeled as the real racist.
Not everything is of culture, but — as there are tiers to be attained for women in politics & business — there are tiers of culture just as well. Even today.
And although the subject should be closed, if it still effects a society in a detrimental way — maybe not as prevalent within previous decades — well it should be addressed like it’s not a dead metaphor.
Well, written piece. It, and a few neutral or contrary comments, had me look at who are the up and comers. And how they’re getting future spots. The same has to asked for black actors as well. Denzel, Forrest, and Wesley can’t keep filling the same roles too much longer.

dvine May 26, 2010, 11:50 AM

i’ve never seen a woman of color on vanity fair.. was there 1 and i missed it.. i don’t buy the mag anyway. i get essence because the women n the mag look like me, pure and simple.. i use to buy “Shape”, “Mademoiselle”, and “Teen”. I grew tired of looking @ women and girls of non-color. i want tips for my skin and my hair and my shade.. VF can kiss it..

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