For the first time in the history of the coveted magazine Vanity Fair, a black photographer shot the cover photo of the July/August edition. The beautiful Viola Davis graces the cover of the publication that was released on July 14. Dario Calmese photographed the Oscar-winning actress in an open-back Max Cara coat dress.
The concept behind the dress as Calmese describes it is “a recreation of the Louis Agassiz slave portraits taken in the 1800s — the back, the welts.” He continues, “This image reclaims that narrative, transmuting the white gaze on Black suffering into the Black gaze of grace, elegance and beauty.”
This is not the first time Calmese has shot for Vanity Fair, but it is his first magazine cover. He has had previous assignments shooting Broadway star Adrienne Warren and actor Billy Porter for the magazine. He has also had major stints with other reputable publications like CBS and The New York Times.
Vanity Fair’s history with representation has not been great in the past and Davis calls them out in an accompanying article.
“They’ve had a problem in the past with putting Black women on the covers,” she says. “But that’s a lot of magazines, that’s a lot of beauty campaigns. There’s a real absence of dark-skinned Black women. When you couple that with what’s going on in our culture, and how they treat Black women, you have a double whammy. You are putting us in a complete cloak of invisibility.”
The 55-year-old talks about the current happenings in Hollywood and the world with regards to the worldwide protests that erupted after the death of George Floyd and growing up poor.
“My entire life has been a protest,” Davis says. “My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis.'”
The Black Lives Matter protests also put pressure on big fashion brands and denouncing institutional racism was a recurring theme among many protesters amid calls to end police brutality, CNN reported.
Many brands quickly aligned themselves with the movement but that did not shield the charges of hypocrisy for which fashion publications were scrutinized. Although Vanity Fair was not mentioned explicitly, Condé Nast the magazine’s publisher responded to the criticisms defending its other title, Vogue.
“Condé Nast is focused on creating meaningful, sustainable change and continues to implement an inclusive hiring process to ensure that a diverse range of candidates is considered for all open positions,” said the company in a statement.
Vanity Fair’s editor-in-chief, Radhika Jones confirmed in the editor’s letter that having Black artistes for the cover of the magazine had been a rare occurrence in the past. She has, however, been a wind of change since taking the reigns in 2017. Jones has had 10 Black people on the cover out of the 17 in the magazine’s history.
“For most of the magazine’s history, a Black artist, athlete, or politician appearing on a regular monthly issue of Vanity Fair was a rare occurrence. In our archives, excluding groups and special issues, we count 17 Black people on the cover of Vanity Fair in the 35 years between 1983 and 2017.”