Can Kerry Washington Fix the Magazine Industry's Problem with Black Women?

The Scandal actress is finally getting the covers many have long said she deserves. First Elle, then a Hollywood Reporter group photo, and now the August issue of Vanity Fair. Already, the quest is on to make it sell — and hopefully to make it change frustrating newsstand attitudes.

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Kerry Washington is finally getting the magazine covers many have long said she deserves. The Scandal actress had Elle all to herself in June and shared the cover of The Hollywood Reporter with other television actresses, but perhaps her bigest coup is August's Vanity Fair cover, released today. Now the quest is on to make it sell, as a successful venture for Vanity Fair—and hopefully a change in some of the magazine industry's most frustrating newsstand attitudes.

Washington would seem like an ideal candidate for a magazine cover. She's on a hit television show. She's beautiful. She's got interesting things to say. But, of course, she is black.

Magazines have a terrible habit of being reluctant to put black women on their covers. This often becomes noticeable when a publication like VF or The Hollywood Reporter does a group cover, but it's long been a problem. Way back in 2002, David Carr wrote a story for the New York Times about Halle Berry's "improbable feat" as a Cosmopolitan cover girl. Carr wrote that "in many broad-circulation magazines, the unspoken but routinely observed practice of not using nonwhite cover subjects -- for fear they will depress newsstand sales -- remains largely in effect." In Erik Maza's March article for Women's Wear Daily about magazine cover sales, Rihanna was mentioned as a worst seller for Vogue. (A Latina woman, Jennifer Lopez, however, sold well for InStyle.)

As Dodai Stewart at Jezebel—who has been chronicling the campaigns to get Washington on more magazine covers—notes, Washington's new VF cover is pretty historic. A black woman hasn't been on the magazine's cover for six years, and even then it was Beyoncé joined by two men. A black woman hasn't had a VF cover to herself since, yes, again, Beyoncé in 2005. 

But there's a burgeoning movement on Twitter to get the word out about buying the magazine. Some fans are simply stating that they will be buying the magazine for the first time because of Washington:

While others are trying advocacy:

That post from Tumblr Certain Shades of Limelight reads:

Buy this magazine.  Show them it sells.  Show them you want to see more women over the age of 35 on major magazines.  Show them you want to see more BLACK women over the age of 35 on major magazine covers.  Show them you want to see more Black women PERIOD on the covers of major magazines.  Show them that diversity sells.

It's a call to action that deserves heeding.

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