The 2021 awards committees may still struggle with recognizing Black excellence (we’re looking at you, Hollywood Foreign Press Association—get some Black members and give Michaela Coel her flowers!), but this year, Vanity Fair does not disappoint. Building upon its increasingly diverse and highly anticipated annual covers, this year’s boasts majority Black talent, including Michael B. Jordan, Zendaya, Spike Lee, Maya Rudolph, Lakeith Stanfield, and our beloved Michaela Coel who all join Charlize Theron, Sacha Baron Cohen, Awkwafina and Dan Levy. That’s right; only three of the 10 talents features on this year’s fantastical technicolor cover, photographed by conceptual artists Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari, aren’t of color, making this perhaps Vanity Fair’s Blackest Hollywood issue to date.
It’s worth celebrating; after all, only a decade ago, the magazine featured only one(!) Black actor, Anthony Mackie, within its traditional trifold cover, sadly indicative of a longstanding trend of tokenism at the magazine. By 2012, we were asking “Who Needs Vanity Fair?” as only two Black actresses, Paula Patton and Adepero Oduye appeared in an otherwise lily-white, 1920s-inspired tableau, causing writer Helena Andrews to note:
[S]ince its first Hollywood issue in 1995 when Angela Bassett was featured on the back panel (along with Sarah Jessica Parker and Sandra Bullock), Vanity Fair has shone its spotlight on only 21 actors of color — including America Ferrera, Salma Hayek and Lucy Liu. And no nonwhite actor has ever been featured on the “power panel.” That is a problem. A pervasive one, in fact. But it doesn’t seem to be one “we” can necessarily fix unless more brown faces show up at Vanity Fair’s editorial-board meetings.
The 2013 issue was no improvement, but by 2014, the magazine was apparently listening, as Black talents comprised half of its cover stars. Alas, by 2015, they were up to their old tricks, with only David Oyelowo holding it down for us, but in 2016, Viola Davis made the elusive “power panel” alongside Jane Fonda, Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence, with Lupita Nyong’o and Gugu Mbatha-Raw taking their places among the remaining nine actresses featured. Black actors accounted for just over a third of the cover’s cast in 2017, just under in 2018 (which also included departing longtime editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, who founded the Hollywood Issue), and again on its 2019 cover, which featured perhaps its most diverse cast yet.
Indeed, there is another brown face in those editorial meetings—Indian-American Radhika Jones became the magazine’s fifth editor-in-chief late 2017, resulting in a broader diversity of covers and coverage, in general. We might not need Vanity Fair, per se, but with not one, but two Black stars on the “power panel” year, can we applaud, nevertheless?
The interior of the issue is as colorful and entertaining as its cover, which was safely produced in 10 photoshoots across four continents, as Jones explains in her editor’s letter, writing:
It turns out it is possible to channel the buoyant serendipity of a magical photo shoot across seven time zones if you have the right participants in front of the camera and behind it. We could not have asked for a more talented, transcendent cast of characters than our cover stars this year, and we are so grateful to them for coming along on the journey—for shouldering imaginary boulders and fighting alongside imaginary bears and soaring into the atmosphere on gargoyles and chandeliers...From Sacha to Zendaya to Charlize Theron to Michaela Coel, they have helped push the boundaries of what entertainment can be, and the stories it can convey, whether in a theater or on your television or someplace in between. This issue exists to celebrate Hollywood and take measure of its evolution...
Here’s to evolution, Vanity Fair.