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Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue never seems to get diversity right

Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey Mock Photoshop Error in Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue

Another year, another chance for Vanity Fair to celebrate the rich diversity of the film industry with their Hollywood issue. Unfortunately, in 2018, they dropped the ball again — a disappointing, if unsurprising move from the prestige magazine.

The cover, as is customary, was lensed by Annie Leibovitz in her signature charismatic style. It features 12 actors and actresses (plus a cameo by outgoing editor-in-chief Graydon Carter), all of whom have received significant press for their work throughout the past year. Legacy stars like Tom Hanks and Robert DeNiro stand alongside newcomers like Gat Gadot and Claire Foy. Seven of the 12 cover stars are women, which successfully represents a majority — though it should be noted that Census-wise, women are in the majority in the United States. It’s a clear nod to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the latter of which was spearheaded by cover stars Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Chastain.

That’s where the progress ends. When examining racial diversity, only three of the stars on the cover are black: Oprah Winfrey, Michael B. Jordan, and Zendaya. None are Latinx or Asian, despite a huge year (and upcoming 2018) for actors in all of those groups.

Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was the undeniable breakout star of the film. Asian representation in film will also receive a huge, necessary boost in summer 2018 when the film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians premieres. Lead star Constance Wu explains that “Crazy Rich Asians is very special in that it is, I believe, the first American studio movie to star all Asians that is set entirely in a contemporary setting.”

Coco, the latest animated Pixar-Disney offering, is a story about the Mexican traditions of the Day of the Dead. The film was lauded by the Atlantic as Pixar’s “best movie in years” and was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2018 Oscars. It features an all-Latinx voice cast, and was co-directed by Adrian Molina, a Mexican-American. Not surprisingly, the hit film also grossed more than $600 million worldwide.

2017 in particular was a boon for black Hollywood. Moonlight, Barry Jenkins’s desperately rapturous coming-of-age film about a queer black man, won Best Picture at the Academy Awards (despite an embarrassing presentation mix-up that arguably overshadowed the film’s historic win). Girls Trip, a summer comedy featuring an ensemble cast of Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, and Tiffany Haddish, was a box-office smash success. As Complex noted, it is the first movie to make over $100 million that was written, directed, and produced by black people with an all-black leading cast. Haddish’s breakout performance in particular made her a possible Oscar contender; critic Ira Madison III of the Daily Beast wrote that “we need to look at how the media drives awards consideration and the kind of actresses we laud as important,” in advocating for Haddish to be taken seriously.

At the 2018 Oscars, black Hollywood is getting the accolades it deserves. This year, Jordan Peele’s incisive debut Get Out, a horror film that he jokingly referred to as a documentary, was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor for Daniel Kaluuya, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director for Peele. Mudbound also earned Oscar noms for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song, both for Mary J. Blige. The Academy ostensibly took the criticism of #OscarsSoWhite seriously, though hashtag creator April Reign told the Los Angeles Times that she’s “encouraged by the incremental progress every year but there is still so much work to be done.”

In addition, the upcoming film adaptation of Black Panther is one of the most anticipated films of the year. It is projected to smash the $100 million-mark on its President’s Day debut weekend; fans excitedly pre-ordered tickets in record-breaking numbers and the trailers have inspired memes and jokes on social media.

The film industry is slowly making strides towards diversity, and moviegoers are rewarding these approaches with their dollars. So why is Vanity Fair so far behind?


The lack of diversity on Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue is nothing new. In 2015, Buzzfeed wrote up an damning timeline of the magazine’s persistent failure to include actors of color. The 2015 issue only featured two actors of colors (Oscar Isaac and Daniel Oyelowo), and no actresses of color. The 2010 issue cover stunningly featured all-white actresses; 2012 saw another round of actresses, again, only two of the women were of color (Paula Patton and Adepero Oduye).

2014 was the best year for diversity on the Hollywood issue: six actors of color graced the magazine cover. Last year’s cover was also diverse, featuring four actresses of color out of 11.

So why then, in 2018, did Vanity Fair take a step back? Their decision to only include three actors of color, zero of whom are Latinx or Asian, is awesomely tone-deaf in a year when diversity has been a huge conversation in Hollywood. The #MeToo movement has swept through Hollywood and our culture at large, prompting conversations about how to keep women safe and amplify the voices of survivors of color. Actresses like Viola Davis and America Ferrera have even taken the lead in the Time’s Up initiative, which established a legal fund to assist low-income victims of sexual harassment and assault, many of whom are women of color — an infinitely more crucial topic of conversation than Oscars buzz.

Even if Vanity Fair chose to boost the visibility of actors who are exclusively award season fodder this year (which they obviously didn’t, because Gal Gadot, as beloved as she is, is not winning an Academy Award for Wonder Woman), they could have included any number of actors of color. Mary J. Blige? Daniel Kaluuya? Venturing outside of film, there is Sterling K. Brown, who took home a Golden Globe and a SAG award this year for Best Actor for his portrayal of Randall Pearson on NBC’s This Is Us, the first black actor to win either of those awards, let alone both.

Vietnamese actress Hong Chau was nominated for a Golden Globe in a best supporting role but missed out on an Oscar nod — and there were no other Asian or Latinx nominated for any other major awards this year. Given this glaring oversight, Vanity Fair could have chosen to correct this imbalance by featuring actors who will make waves in 2018: for example, Awkwafina, who will star in both Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, or Tessa Thompson, who will appear in three films this year: Sorry To Bother You, Avengers: Infinity War, and Annihilation, or Gina Rodriguez, already a TV star in Jane the Virgin, and racking up major movie credits too.

Instead, Vanity Fair delivered more of the same. If the Hollywood issue insists on treating diversity as an afterthought, perhaps moviegoers should offer them the same treatment with our dollars at the newsstand. After all, diverse movies shattered box-office records in 2017, and that trend is only poised to grow. Vanity Fair should take note: diversity sells, and inclusion is a winning business and social strategy. When people feel represented, they respond with their money.

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