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Hollywood writer Lia Langworthy analysis subtext behind center stage African beauty on Vanity Fair cover

Vanity Fair puts African Beauty centre stay...

So what’s the catch?!

Is it just me, or is it too good to believe that this mainstream high-end magazine known as being “too white” has put Kenyan beauty Lupita Amondi Nyong’o center stage ahead of other well-known Oscar-nominated names, on their front cover?

Evidently it’s not just me questioning!

So when Californian writer Lia Langworthy who hosted me in her Hollywood home 2 years ago, questioned the context of this picture, I just had to take the opportunity get her opinion on my blog!

Looking like the African goddess “Yemanjá” painted in gold, or rather, the option Vanity Fair might prefer, an “Oscar statue” as Lia Langworthy observed, Lupita effortlessly demands our attention. And to add to that she isn’t alone – another 5 actors and actress of African-decent support her starring role on the March cover for the 20th annual Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue.

The catch you ask?… Must there always be one?!

Of course, the catch could be that the 3-panel foldout cover shot by acclaimed portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz, just misses our statuesque African beauty on a fold. So the actual ‘front cover’ that people will see on the stands will be Julia Roberts taking the limelight with George Clooney, and two African men flying the flag high for Britain; Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba.


I was interested in what Lia had to say about the subtext behind this significant issue featuring Oscar nominees… Half of whom are African-decent.

I think this photograph contains a lot of subtext. I don’t think any of it is necessarily negative. In fact, I think much of the subtext is very idealistic and altruistic. For one, Julia and Idris are posed in such a way that says sexual and erotic relations between white women and black men are very much normal and accepted. We know from history that black men-white women erotic relationships were made illegal as a matter of domination and control via the public policy. Julia and Idris’s positioning symbolically rejects that.

Also, Lupita is clearly the most powerful person in the photograph. It doesn’t matter that she’s not on the cover and inside the fold. She is the center of attention. She’s literally gilded and set apart. I think this is an attempt to say that black women are now able to be sexy and glamorous. Because rarely, if ever, does Hollywood portray black women as such. Also we notice that black women are not sitting on the laps of white men. I believe this was intentional, because that positioning would hark back to stereotypes and images of white man eroticizing and dominating black women sexually. The artists in this image went out of their way to avoid that.

I also notice that there is a carefully racial and even balance — much to the chagrin of Asian and Latino actors. Much of the polemic between race in the United States has been between blacks and whites. This image is suggesting that Hollywood has achieve a racial balance. (Something we know is far from the case.) I’m very much interested in positioning and representations. How we represent texts and images is inherently political and always manipulated to communicate certain things. The altruistic representations in this image are admirable, but they don’t reflect the reality in Hollywood — or in the U.S.

It just goes to show that as with adverting, nothing the media puts out is by ‘coincidence’. There’s always a deeper meaning behind what we see, and by analysing the subtext, as Lia kindly offered to do for this blog, we can get a greater understand of the media… Whether its intend is good, bad or damn right ugly!

Special thanks to Lia Langworthy.

What are you thoughts on this Vanity Fair cover?

VanityFair March issue

VanityFair March issue

4 thoughts on “Hollywood writer Lia Langworthy analysis subtext behind center stage African beauty on Vanity Fair cover

  1. Pingback: Your dreams are valid – Lupita is a winning siSTAR! | the Educationally Frustrated student

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