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Viola Davis’ Vanity Fair Cover Is a Little Too Late

Founded in 1913, a Black photographer finally gets a shot in 2020?

Image Credit: Dario Calmese/Vanity Fair

You know how to tell that true progress has yet to be made?

Because we still have to say the phrase, “so-and-so is the first Black _____.”

It is a sobering thought to know that for all the eons that people of color have been on the planet, we still are being listed as newcomers across the board in many categories.

I know, we are supposed to be happy with the newfound inclusion.

However, with Black Lives Matter being the new “black”, there is a trend leaning towards the dangerous if corporations are rocking with the movement only because it is chic.

White Privilege is Vanity

Enter Vanity Fair, who has placed Viola Davis on the July/August cover. This marked the first time in the magazine’s history that a cover was shot by a Black photographer.

In the 107 year history of the magazine, Dario Calmese is now one of “the first’s” and according to the New York Times, he didn’t even know he was the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of Vanity Fair.

He had a suspicion and asked one the editors. He was right.

“To the best of our knowledge, it is the first Vanity Fair cover made by a Black photographer,” Radhika Jones wrote in her July-August editor’s letter. The subject of the cover is Viola Davis, who, in the same issue, told her interviewer, Sonia Saraiya, that Black women haven’t traditionally been photographed for the cover of Vanity Fair, either.

Wow. So Black is the new Black.

Let’s run Vanity Fair by the numbers: Vanity Fair has published 17 solo covers featuring Black people. Add an additional eight since Radhika Jones took over two and a half years ago. Clearly she understood that balance was an issue.

Also according to the New York Times, several employees shared their experiences in recent weeks, saying that Condé Nast, the publisher of Vanity Fair, is a racist workplace.

But are you surprised?

Origin Story

Vanity Fair is a Conde Nast publication that is over 100 years old and still kicking in a depleted print world.

Condé Montrose Nast began his empire by purchasing the men’s fashion magazine Dress in 1913. He renamed the magazine Dress and Vanity Fair and published four issues in 1913.

“Vanity Fair” originally meant “a place or scene of ostentation or empty, idle amusement and frivolity”—a reference to the decadent fair in John Bunyan’s 1678 book, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is a religious allegory presenting a symbolic vision of the good man’s pilgrimage through life. At one time second only to the Bible in popularity, The Pilgrim’s Progress is the most famous Christian allegory still in print.

The magazine is steeped in a history that is not inclusive and props up empty white idealism.

The fact that the world is focused on social justice makes Viola Davis official for Vanity Fair this go round. Had this not happened and Viola Davis was still having her amazing career moments, would she still be a cover girl?

Probably not as the real issue is that Conde Nast doesn’t see Black people as anything other as a niche audience who’s blackness is affront to their core audience’s aspirations.

Vanity Fair’s annual Hollywood Issue, the 2010 edition was titled “A New Decade, A New Hollywood”. It featured 9 white women.

There was not one person of color. The cover reflected “Old Hollywood” which is the exact archetype that Vanity Fair encompasses. As long as old media brans embrace The Great Gatsby styled reverence for past depictions of America and its stars, Black people will have more “first’s” to prove their inclusion into society at large.

 

 

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