The Truth About the All-White Actress Magazine Cover

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Why wait until the end of January for Graydon Carter's inevitable exercise in The New Hollywood? Why wait for the inevitable backlash that Vanity Fair is racist for forgetting all the non-white actresses on its cover? It's all starting early now that the "Actress Roundtable" at Janice Min's revamped Hollywood Reporter already has everyone upset about the same thing.

The current complaint is that THR failed to feature any actresses who aren't white talking about personal struggles — a look at the comments on the latest cover story will remind you there are actresses like Beasts of the Southern Wild's Quvenzhané Wallis and Skyfall's Naomie Harris who could have been included in the roundup — not to mention perennial Oscar powerhouse Viola Davis. And, yes, the new issue includes groan-worthy first-hand accounts from Amy Adams, Helen Hunt, Sally Field, and Naomi Watts (who's latest role is a story about the 2004 tsunami's impact on rich white tourists) about the fights they've braved in landing big, important roles. 

The thing that caught our eye, though, was that we've heard this complaint before, and seen this cover before. Haven't we? Haven't you? If it does look familiar, it's because Vanity Fair has been doing this — putting caucasian actresses on their "This is Hollywood!" cover year-in and year-out — and somehow managed to generate thousands of conversations on the race topic... without really addressing it. Here's how THR captured the conversation — or at least the cover sales:

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Step 1: Gather a lot of caucasian actresses from not-so-big movies and have them shot in soft-focus lighting in a lot of pastels. Unnatural side-saddle seating on furniture is recommended: 

Example A: The Hollywood Reporter's cover of its November 30 "Actress Roundtable" issue...

...this being the last prime example from VF...

Step 2: Make sure no non-white actresses are pictured prominently.  

Step 3: Never, ever include Zoe Saldana.

Here are some of the comments accompanying the THR article: 

Those echoed this criticism from Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue from Salon's Kate Harding:

Frankly, I don’t expect I’ll live to see a 300-pound, dark-skinned black woman on the cover of Vanity Fair, so I won’t even pretend that was an oversight of the sort they might ever address ... But Zoe effing Saldana? Who was in two of the year’s hugest movies, and is endowed with pretty much every cherished marker of conventional beauty except “Ivory-soap-girl” skin?

Step 4: Definitely include Helen Hunt.

Step 5: Hope that no one remembers the other times you've used white-actresses-in-pastels covers in the past (without any outrage)...

...or that time you put a bunch of white old people (and one old black actor) on your covers in the past.

Step 6: Wait for outrage... and success. 

"What’s striking in The Hollywood Reporter's case though is that diversity in the industry is an issue that makes it in to their stories regularly." writes Color Lines's Jorge Rivas, who mentions  editor Janice Min's ethnicity and various THR stories about Mindy Kaling and Sofia Vergara. Obviously that's puzzling. Puzzling and valid.

But Rivas doesn't take into consideration that this latest outrage might be one reason we're all talking about the content in an issue that otherwise would have flown under the radar — or that we, for once, are talking about a THR cover instead of one of their awesome scoops. And as Vanity Fair has learned, year after year, people will look to the cover and never tire of asking the same questions about the magazine and about Hollywood in general, even if you don't address race at all.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.