Cover controversy: Vanity Fair, where’s the diversity?
By: Shannon Clarke
Feature image via Vanity Fair.
If 2012 really is the end of civilization as we know it, and our questions about world peace or global warming are never answered, we can at least be sure of one thing — Vanity Fair really doesn’t care what you think of its annual Hollywood cover.
Last year, readers noted the spread featured only two people of colour (Rashida Jones and Anthony Mackie), both tucked away in the folds of the extended cover.
The front page was reserved for four of the 11 white actors in the 13-person shoot.
In 2010, readers complained that the “Young Hollywood” cover depicted exclusively thin, white actresses. Where, they asked, was Gabourey Sidibie, who earned an Oscar nomination for her first lead role in Precious? Kristen Stewart made the list, as did Amanda Seyfried, both of who were on the “New Wave” cover in 2008. That was the year Slumdog Millionaire cleaned up during awards season and Frieda Pinto was everywhere but Vanity Fair.
The magazine unveiled its 2012 cover this week and still, nothing has changed. There are eight actresses photographed, two are black, neither one made the newsstand cover.
The dissent, however, is less passionate than years past, maybe even a little submissive. Like the awkward relative who shows up to every family function, Vanity Fair’s blatant indifference to non-white, non-thin, non-young Hollywood is a given. After nearly a decade, the defences are as worn out as the critiques.
“But wait,” a VF devotee will say. “These actresses were huge successes too!”
No one is denying cover girl Rooney Mara’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was an enormous critical and commercial hit. But so was Bridesmaids and Melissa McCarthy is nowhere in sight.
“Okay, but Melissa McCarthy is over 40, and these women are in their 20s and 30s.”
Mindy Kaling, star, co-producer and writer for The Office for eight seasons is only 32.
She’s been active on both the big and small screens for seven years and never once has been part of the coveted shoot.
And Hollywood certainly loves its starlets, “precocious beauties” as the magazine calls. Roles for men over 40 are plenty. Roles for women are not.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, best actor nominee George Clooney decried the treatment of older women in Hollywood.
“When a man hits 40 is when roles just begin to happen. And for women it doesn’t happen. I find that to be a very concerning issue.”
“But what has Gabourey Sidibe done lately?”
Admittedly, not much, probably because Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with actresses they consider “plus-sized” other than hand them stereotypical roles.
Jennifer Hudson — whose weight loss has now far eclipsed her musical and acting achievements — recently wrote that she turned down the lead in Precious because she didn’t want to be typecast, having just won an Oscar for playing Effie in Dreamgirls.
“Well, those actors are on the cover because they’re interviewed inside.”
So, not only does the magazine sideline the few actors of colour featured, they silence them as well.
“There are just more white actors in Hollywood.”
This year’s roster of Oscar nominees is being called “the whitest” in the last decade, despite the buzz around Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis’ performances as disgruntled maids in The Help (co-star Jessica Chastin made this year’s newsstand cover.)
Davis is taking advantage of her time on the award circuit this year to talk about the scarce roles for black actresses. She appears in the same issue of Entertainment Weekly as Clooney.
“Only one black actress in history has been back [at the Oscars] more than once, and that’s Whoopi Goldberg. But that’s only because there aren’t a lot of roles out there that are going to bring you back.”
Movies featuring exclusively or predominately white casts are often big budget films, sent into wide release while movies featuring all-black casts (Pariah, For Colored Girls, Red Tails) are marketing mysteries. Anything beyond the black-white American dichotomy is “foreign.” Roles for South Asian, Asian and Latina actors and actresses are so slim they are virtually non-existent.
With every excuse exhausted, it’s hard to believe Vanity Fair has no clue what it’s doing. Or maybe it does, and is just touting out this tired cover controversy every year to remind the industry and its consumers that Hollywood is not nearly as diverse as its audience.
No? I didn’t think so either.