Credit: Annie Leibovitz/Via Vanity Fair
Just a few months back, Vanity Fair, the quintessential Hollywood star-making magazine, held a contest for the most popular cover. The contest featuring 100 years of covers showed a disproportionate number of white celebs compared to entertainers of color. This lack of diversity has prompted the magazine to reflect on how images shape public opinion.
Ironically, despite the disproportionate number of Vanity Fair covers depicting predominantly white actors and musicians, the recent poll overwhelming picked Michael Jackson as the favorite cover of all time.
Apparently, the magazine got the message. Vanity Fair’s most recent 2014 Hollywood issue is much more inclusive with half of the featured celebrities being non-white. At the same time, in all fairness, Vanity Fair’s covers have always reflected an industry historically more alabaster than ebony.
Turning the lens on an issue as sensitive as cultural and racial identity has prompted some interesting comments from readers.
“I'm Black also and personally. I love the cover. Years ago did we ever think any Black person would be nominated for an Oscar after Hattie Mac Daniel? Never being on the cover of Vanity Fair!,” writes one fan.
Meanwhile, another reader argues, “I am an African American woman and I am highly insulted by the placement of the black women on this cover. They are isolated in the middle of the picture. You have 6 men in this picture and all of them are positioned next to White Women. This is just plain racism and is perpetuating the idea that White women are desirable and Black women are not.”
Raising concerns over Vanity Fair’s attempt to include more African Americans on its covers is suggests a shift in consciousness. However, cultural and racial representations appear on the surface of an even bigger issue – Hollywood’s political economy.
National Public Radio touched briefly on this issue recently.
As always, NPR seeks to address issues in its coverage of major issues such as racial equality fair-mindedly. However, I would like to suggest something that gets often overlooked in our public discourse -- how decisions to include people of color in the media are not only base on cultural, racial, and ethnic sensitivity. Your article, as well thought through and written as it is, fails to address the influence of demographics on a multi-billion dollar industry.
What is missing from the conversation is that cultural and racial representations appear only on the surface of an even bigger issue – the political economy of the entertainment industry. Hollywood is a billion dollar industry and following demographic trends is smart business. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Motion Picture Association of America, the industry is seeing “Increases in the number of frequent moviegoers in nearly every ethnicity and age group, notably in the 40- 49 year old group.”
Considering the political economic power at the box office, Vanity Fair’s decision to include more people of color on it cover is not just about cultural diversity -- it’s about understanding the market – a market that isn’t as white as it used to be.
Getting more African American actors on the cover may placate some, but when digging down to the financial underbelly of how the magazine and the industry makes decisions to sell race and ethnicity, it’s always about where the money is.