A Word (Or Two) About Race And Representation


Yesterday, we posted one group of friends’ parody of Vanity Fair‘s monochromatic Young Hollywood cover. Some of the reactions troubled us.

Dodai’s critique of the original Vanity Fair cover was nuanced. She pointed out that this was a profoundly limited version of “Young Hollywood” that hadn’t changed much since Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” but then added,

It’s hard to say if fault lies with the editors of the magazine, or with Hollywood itself – trying to come up with some projects employing new, young Asian, black or Latin actors and actresses is a tough exercise.

In other words, while Vanity Fair made specific (and limited) choices about who represented the next wave of Hollywood, it occurred in the context of a cycle of who gets work and who gets noticed in the entertainment industry.

Given the tremendous response to the original critique, we decided to share one working actress’s parody of the cover (which she emailed us), featuring her own friends and some pointed captions.

The bulk of the reactions consisted of complaints that the people in the photograph weren’t diverse enough — that there weren’t enough races represented, or that dark-skinned people had deliberately been left out. Part of this perception was due to the brightness of the photograph, which its producer said was meant to mimic the original, and because there was limited information available about the backgrounds of the participants. But in any case, this sort of reverse paper-bag test is troubling. It imposes an idea of diversity that is its own form of limitation, levying external, as-yet-uninformed judgments about who qualifies as sufficiently diverse.

After the post went up, one of the organizers of the photo, Sita Young, sent us more information about the people that appeared in it. Here’s what she said:

Starring: Juli Figueroa, Taye Hansberry, Sita Young, Jenn Shagrin, Daheli Hall, Jane Lueck, Anna Khaja, Ja’Que Trevelle, and Amelia Borella.
Photography: Kat Randolph and Alex Petrovitch of Holloway Pictures
Post: Josh Abramoff
Production: Sita Young
All the girls on the cover are actresses in Hollywood. Some stand outs with work you would know are Anna Khaja from the movie Yes Man, she is also a Best Actress Ovation award Winner. Daheli Hall from Mad TV who also frequents the Comedy Store. Jenn Shagrin from Reno 911, who is also the noted Vegan Twinki Chef. And Myself who has starred in many a cult horror film most recently Penance, The Last Resort, and Drive-Thru- I was also on The Ghost Whisperer last week, I am model as well and have been working in the industry since I was a child.
Ja’Que (our drag queen) is a noted Shakespearian actor when not in dress.
Both Jenn and Jane are gay and proud.
Kat the photographer is also an actress and writer.

Sounds like they represented plenty of experiences and backgrounds left out of the original Vanity Fair cover. And that they are out there working in the entertainment business, trying to get work and get ahead. In other words, an alternative to Vanity Fair‘s chosen version of Young Hollywood.

It’s true that society imposes particular privileges on lighter-skinned people, their racial identifications notwithstanding. It’s true that our original critique of the cover centered on a particular definition of diversity that implicitly creates awkward hierarchies of representation — Carey Mulligan doesn’t “count” for being British, or Abbie Cornish for being Australian. But a further critique doesn’t need to involve impugning the identities of a bunch of people who agreed that there was more to Young Hollywood, or should be. And there is a difference between wishing that a magazine with a multimillion dollar budget used its platform to showcase a greater range of actresses and denigrating a few friends who put together a low-budget send-up that does not appear to have involved an open casting call.

No one ever said it was the alternative Young Hollywood; to assume that it would or should be so perpetuates a different, still disappointing, form of myopia.

Or, as one commenter put it,

Well I am sure the artist and her friends are really thankful about our opinion of their race boxes, and how subversive those boxes are. Yep, those look like some girls who were just looking to be put into boxes on that sunny afternoon.
I felt the criticism of the piece were more dismissive than constructive. When it takes so much courage in our society to do anything outside the ordinary, getting a dose of “Way Harsh Tai” with one small venture is a terrible way to nurture an opposition that is truly lacking. I would just like people to take four seconds and think about how to phrase their comments to help the current and future artists do it better, not discourage them.


Earlier: Take Two: Some Other Faces Of Young Hollywood
Debate Over Vanity Fair‘s Cover Takes Uglier Turn
“Pretty Young White Girls On OUR Covers”: Racists Come Out In Support Of Magazine Segregation
“Young Hollywood” Is White, Thin

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