Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Is Black Barbie in Italian Vogue Tokenism?
...or is it a little bit more than that? Franca Sozzani and posse are the steamrollers of inclusivism.
Last years Italian Vogue issue was filled with the audacity of Blackness. The issue celebrated the beauty and diversity of black models to the exclusion of the great white wave. It was a ground breaker and for a couple of weeks even a ground sweller. Other prominent fashion magazines including American Vogue had to stop and think(for a hot minute) about the why and why not of using models of color on their pages and why most designers were not using these girls and guys on their runways. It was a very provocative moment for lots of people including readers to examine this pervasive phenomenon. Talks, forums , discussions occurred thanks to stalwarts of the industry like Bethann Hardison. As a black cat, I was pretty intrigued with the reasons or lack thereof for this insidious white-out that has changed the face of international fashion.
As a kitten in the 80's and one that prowled the shows and couture houses of Paris, Black models ruled the seas. Saint Laurent, Givenchy , Bohan at Dior and Valentino were filling the runways with these exceptional models. Then it just sort of stopped. we were hot and then suddenly not.
The displacement was originally a choice of Asian beauties, then it faded to white. It was so subtle then that it was hard to point the finger or even to put one's finger on it. It's very clear now.
With last years issue Sozzani struck a very loud dissonant chord. The mute pedal seemed to follow it a bit too quickly and that was that. Diversity flickered on a few runways , but only superstar black models were invited to the feast. This time those girls who filled the pages last year have been replaced with Black Barbies...... A clever play on subjects, but ultimately a flaccid follow up to an idea/topic whose time is very much overdue. Did the magazine decide Black Barbie's rates were more in keeping with the recession? Was everybody else too busy not getting work? Or was it just an amusing way of diminishing the actual message?
With this country's first African American President and First family the timing for an issue peopled with dolls whose plastic bodies are "darkened" with much the same features of their more famous fore bearers falls a bit flat. It smacks of tokenism, not what we all used to use to ride the subway, but a tepid response to a world which has changed dramatically since the last issue.
I'm a little disappointed that Franca and co. couldn't have expanded more on the trail they started to blaze. Europe has historically been more receptive to people of color than the U.S.of A. That is what stymies me now.
Yes, it's nice they did it again, but put the energy and money where it's better invested. Give these models the job, and let the dolls be a clever sidebar. They were very chic, very cleverly styled and I enjoyed the mini spectacle. But it was a snack with one piece of lettuce. Hardly enough to nourish or make one ask," What was that delicious meal?"
Tokenism is just that. A tidbit tossed in order not to upset the status quo but just enough to say don't look at us, we're color blind....Black models are the same as non Black models, only they have a hell of a lot harder time making a career of it. The same goes for so many other models and people in the fashion industry who happen to be un -white.