Last year’s Vanity Fair Hollywood issue — beyond being full of clumsy and weird photos — was largely as white as an empty page. At the time we had hoped it would hold up a mirror to Hollywood in a way that engineered change, but it turns out it all it did was foretell The Same As It Ever Was: The Oscars are less diverse than ever.
This year, Vanity Fair’s pivot was to people its Hollywood Issue entirely with women, of varied ages and ethnicities. I’ll break out the three pages in close-ups, because I have FRUSTRATED THOUGHTS about how this group of women was photographed. But here’s the three-page overview:
God knows it’s nice to see a magazine that would call itself Serious devoting a major tri-fold cover to talented women. But the cynic in me — whom I did not want to come forth as loud as she apparently wants to — looks at this and thinks, “Is it just me, or does this come off like they carefully placed one black woman and one Woman of a Certain Age per page?” (Except for that last one, which has two.) And then I wonder, in an issue whose delicate subhead extols “the movies’ most talented women,” where the female directors are — like, say, Ava DuVernay, snubbed last year for Selma AND from 2015’s Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue. And let’s ask AGAIN why Vanity Fair insists upon excluding TV, which I complained about in 2015 as well. What about game-changers like Jill Soloway or Jenji Kohan? Whither Taraji P. Henson? Or, again, Gina Rodriguez? I know Jane the Virgin isn’t a ratings hit, but it’s a critical darling, Gina is now a TWO-time Golden Globe nominee and one-time winner. Constance Wu and Tracee Ellis Ross are both adored on their shows.
I understand that a magazine like Vanity Fair may only think TV is cool if a movie star — Viola Davis — decides to grace the airwaves (and get real, VF: is Suicide Squad, her lone current movie project, REALLY why she’s included here when she’s currently the new and highly lauded face of Shondaland?). But that talent pool, both behind the camera and on it, could have yielded stuff way more revolutionary than yet another Cate or Jennifer cover. Yes, seven of these women turned out to be Oscar nominees, and Vanity Fair loves that guessing game, trying to ensure several of its Hollywood Issue cover subjects are on the Academy’s short list so that the magazine will look timely. But if anything has been proven in the last year, it’s that the Oscars are just a speck. Hollywood is a much larger story than that. I wish — as it feels like I do ever year — Vanity Fair had chosen to treat it as such, and tell it.
Onto the enlarged versions:
Cate Blanchett is doing her exact usual cool-as-a-cucumber thing. You feel like the fires of hell could be licking at the feet of those around her, and she’d look exactly the same. Viola Davis looks older and less radiant than she does anywhere else; her pose seems artificial, the way she was directed to plonk her hand down on Jennifer Lawrence. Even J.Law’s face is like, “Really? Why are they making Viola do that? Why am I slouching? I am going to look like I don’t even care. Maybe I DON’T even care. How DO I feel?” Jane Fonda’s eyes simply say, “I know how I feel, but I’m going to make you guess.”
And here we have Charlotte Rampling very nearly being asked to flash the camera; Lupita almost looking cock-eyed; Alicia Vikander having a headache; Brie Larson only partially looking like herself and wearing the facial expression and outfit of a disillusioned showgirl who just realized the floor where she has landed is sticky, and she does not know with what; and Rachel Weisz, whose features are arranged in an expression of HIGHEST SKEPTICISM.
Mirren: furious. Ronan: disgusted. Gugu Mbatha-Raw: looks like she just sucked in a breath because someone said something offensive and she’s trying to clock her own reaction before she says anything. And then Diane Keaton over there is as jolly as can be, like a cross between Mary Poppins and the Artful Dodger. Nobody told her this wasn’t meant to be a comedy. (Do we think she wasn’t even PART of this cover shoot until they looked at it and realized something needed to fill the space behind Helen? You could tell me they photographed Keaton carelessly in her yard and then plopped her in there with Photoshop, and I would believe it.)
I mean, SERIOUSLY, take them all together again: These pages feature some of the loveliest women in the industry, and yet Annie Leibovitz has turned them into diminished, diluted versions of themselves. And further, on all three pages, at least half the women are wearing facial expressions that are either antagonistic, confused, or fatigued. Except for Diane, who is grinning like a con artist who just filched everyone’s wallets. It makes her look HELLA INSANE, and it makes the women of Hollywood seem unpleasant. How does that help our cause? How does that promote the fact that Hollywood is teeming with creative and energetic and talented women? How does it help send the message that those women are every bit the equals of the men whose accomplishments often overshadow, and opportunities and salaries too frequently outweigh, those of their female counterparts? They don’t all need to grin like it’s the cover of Cosmo, but unless the theme here is “Seriously, Don’t Mess With The Women of Hollywood Because They Can TAKE YOU,” all that hostility or disinterest or scorn seems off-putting and destined to mute the larger point. Which is, I hope, that women are GREAT and SMART and PLEASE EVERYONE STOP TREATING US AS NOVELTY ITEMS.