26 March 2008

Transcending Race?

Perhaps when they see this Annie Leibovitz Vogue (April 08) cover, the French will wonder why one of their recent cover stories has been criticized as racially troubling. After all, they are French and can't be expected to be attuned to the racial stereotypes at large in the U.S.! But given that Barak Obama has just spoken of how his own (white) grandmother admitted to being fearful of strange black men whom she passed on the street, it seems that worries about stereotypes of "dangerous black male" remain salient. Well, some writers have criticised the Leibovitz cover as racist because it portrays a black man and white woman together in just that seemingly charged way. The man and woman here are NBA star LeBron James and model Gisele Bundchen. Here is James's response: "Everything my name is on is going to be criticized in a good way or bad way. . . . Who cares what anyone says?" I have offered enough criticism of fashion photography generally and Leibovitz here before to pass on this one. But while James may not care what I say, too bad. Here are some off-the-top-of -the-head comments.

First, I guess I wonder how this photograph is any more racist or sexist than professional sports or fashion modelling generally. That is a topic for another time. Second, the ruckus seems to be about the expression on James's face. But Bundchen has a look so vacant as to be quite disconcerting. Moreover, it seems to me that she is virtually photoshopped into the image - her hair has that bizarre Annie-esque windblown look as though she is laying on her back and notice that James's left hand is barely touching her. Finally, I don't see why James couldn't have been decked out in sharp duds instead of shorts and sneaks. I know, I know, the "story" is about good bodies. Good bodies look good in nice clothes too. (Thanks Stan B!)

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Blogger Tom White said...

Is this photograph a) racist or b) sexist. I can't decide. I think I'll go with c) all of the above.

27 March, 2008 08:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The shot out of its context may or may not be racist - however it appears to me to be a riff on the original King Kong movie poster, which was racist. There is nothing in this new version of the old poster that updates/changes that message.
Robert Gumpert

27 March, 2008 19:01  

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