This is a lackluster array for me. Zendaya ad Mindy Kaling? Yes. Lena Waithe and the lead and director of her new movie? Definitely. Dolly Parton? NO QUESTION. DO NOT EVEN ASK. As a side note, I looked at the 2018, 2017, and 2016 covers, and at most three of them in each year — often, only two of them — are women of color, and indeed, only three of this new batch are too. I’d be curious to know what their formula is, because those numbers are too tidy and consistent for me. Especially when you take into account that the other names they’ve used this year (also the case in other years) are not particularly resonant nor creative pulls: Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

It’s not that these are inherently wrong choices, necessarily. Nicole Kidman is there because of Bombshell, the movie in which she plays FOX News’s Gretchen Carlson. Natalie Portman is there chiefly due to Lucy In The Sky. Neither of those is invalid, but they are fairly boring and safe, and perhaps we only needed one boring and safe subject about whom it feels like we already know so very, very much, from countless other covers (Natalie’s in particular reads just like every other Natalie Portman cover from the past couple years, to me).

Scarlett is there for Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit, but I’m biased against her because her public statements have worked my last nerve, which the article glosses over cheerfully:

After being called out for possibly appropriative roles in Ghost in the Shell and Rub & Tug (she exited the latter amid the controversy; the project is now in limbo), Johansson told a reporter that “as an actor,” she should be able to play “any person, or any tree, or any animal.” (She later clarified the statement, saying that in an ideal world art should be immune to political correctness.) Two days after we talk, she’s in the news again for defending Match Point director Woody Allen, who’s been accused of molesting his adopted daughter (an accusation he’s repeatedly denied). To her credit, Johansson’s critics will find zilch to take issue with in her current films, both of which feel drawn from the most authentic wells of personal history.

Oh, okay, great, well, as long as she’s currently drawing from authentic wells of personal history, then it totally obliterates anything else problematic she’s said!!! Obviously some people are going to agree with her, and that’s everyone’s prerogative, but she’s not my cup of tea and this cover smacks of paid PR to try and wipe that other stuff out. I wish it had been used more deeply. Or on someone else.

And then Gwyneth. Y’all, Gwyneth…. she is a wrong choice, to me. She’s there because of her loose connection to The Politician, but even the story can’t find that much to talk about there. It opens with her refusing to play someone’s mother in it, and then trucks right on to her taking umbrage at the idea that GOOP might still be worth only $250 million, and then this gem:

Her difficulty keeping track of which Marvel movies she’s in has been a much-repeated joke on the internet, though Paltrow doesn’t seem to be aware of this. “I never read stuff,” she says. “But it is confusing because there are so many Marvel movies, and to be honest, I haven’t seen very many of them. It’s really stupid and I’m sorry, but I’m a 47-year-old mother.”

Yes, because 47-year old mothers are completely unable to enjoy things that aren’t deeply serious, or deeply pretentious, or deeply embedded in your vagina like a jade egg.

Surely there is more fertile ground elsewhere. Greta Gerwig has the ballyhooed Little Women coming, made waves with Lady Bird not that long ago, and quietly had a baby with her longtime partner Noah Baumbach (if for some reason the rest wasn’t enough of an angle). Why not Viola Davis, who is coming to the end of her run in How To Get Away With Murder and may use that to springboard back into movies? What about Elizabeth Banks, who’s steering the new Charlie’s Angels and herself into a fuller directing and producing career? Why not Jodie Comer, or Sandra Oh, or both together? (Oh wait, they’re women in TV, and that gets its own half-baked credit in the February issues; they don’t seem to consider “TV” and “Hollywood” to be the same thing. Sigh.) To be honest, I’d have swapped Portman for her Lucy In The Sky co-star Zazie Beetz (Atlanta, Joker, Deadpool 2), because she’s on a meteoric rise. I realize there are other moving parts, other covers to consider, but the point is that when my reaction to the Women In Hollywood cover is, “Sigh, I only want to read about maybe four of these people,” it suggests that a deeper dig is in order.

The most interesting read is Lena Waithe, Malina Matsoukas, and Jodie Turner-Smith — one of her photos, in a mustard Balmain jacket, is really striking — talking about Queen & Slim, which also stars Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out. It’s an incredibly thoughtful discussion of their movie and the issues therein. If you want to read the other stories: Nicole Kidman talks about The Prom and Nine Perfect Strangers; Mindy tells a story about the Academy trying to nudge her off the nominees list for The Office; Zendaya talks about Euphoria. And Dolly is always, forever, and perfectly Dolly.

[Photos: Elle]