Did Kerry Washington Deserve the Vanity Fair Cover?

April 3, 2012  |  

Deserve may not be the best word in this instance so let me rephrase. Did Vanity Fair miss the mark—again—by leaving Kerry Washington off of their “Special TV Issue” cover?

In the May issue, the magazine pays homage to the rise of the female cast lead with Julianna Margulies Claire Danes, Sofía Vergara, and Michelle Dockery, the stars of “The Good Wife,” “Homeland,” “Modern Family,” and “Downtown Abby,” respectively, gracing the cover. Inside is a spread that has many feeling like the days when coloreds had to come in through the back door as Kerry Washington and two other minorities, Grace Park and Archie Panjabi, share space with Emily Deschanel, Emmy Rosum, Emily Vancamp, and Kat Dennings, the stars of other prime-time series on ABC, NBC, and CBS. You can either look at this issue in its entirety and think only the biggest female television stars were put on the cover and that’s why Kerry Washington was not, or you can assume Kerry’s color prevented her from snagging the coveted position. Undoubtedly, the decision that led to things appearing as they do involves a little bit of both—how much of each I can’t say.

The thing is Julianna, Claire, Sofía, and Michelle are well established in their shows and as television actresses so it makes sense for them to be on the cover, and if we’re looking at this as an example of Hollywood white-washing, Sofía’s presence is at least one mark on the diversity tally. Kerry Washington’s show “Scandal” hasn’t even debuted yet, but on the other hand, she is the only black woman headlining a show on a major television network this season, that show is being created and produced by yet another black woman, Shonda Rhimes, and it is based on the true professional story of a very successful black woman, Judy Smith. Those three factors would lead me to believe Kerry would have at least some merit to be featured front and center (or at least have her show’s title be listed on the cover as many of the others are) but as Dodai Stewart points out on Jezebel, “it would seem that the magazine takes great pains to insure that a black person does not end up on the cover.” And by cover, we’re not just talking this one. As recent as January, Anthony Mackie and Rashida Jones were the only black people to grace the mag’s Hollywood issue and in 2010, a lot of fuss was made over the fact that nine white women were deemed the face of New Hollywood.

Part of me feels like why should I expect Vanity Fair or anyone who’s not black to understand how big Kerry’s role is. Do I really take note of white milestones? I’m not really sure there are too many left to be made, but you get the point. It’s not surprising that the editors wouldn’t pick up on the opportunity to showcase what could be a huge breakout role for her, and when I think about that factor, I tend to agree with the sentiment a lot of people have, which is do we need them too?

Whenever a discussion like this comes up, people question why we’re looking for validation by mainstream/white America, but I don’t think our grumblings are necessarily rooted in that. I personally think we just want balance. If a black woman who commits a crime can be sprawled across the national evening news and on the cover of newspapers worldwide, then when a black woman treads new positive ground in the entertainment industry she should be given that same amount of attention. A lot of the frustration surrounding situations like this is also the fact that it makes us question if we’ll ever break through the colored ceiling. We don’t need white people’s acceptance to have a sense of pride about ourselves or to celebrate our own achievements but we do need white people to acknowledge when we’re doing something that doesn’t fit into their narrow ideals of black life and abilities because that acknowledgement trickles down into so many other aspects of our daily lives. On one hand we’re talking about something as trivial as a magazine cover, on the other we’re talking about something as significant as not seeing all black women as unattractive, unemployed, sexually promiscuous, violent, angry, and any other negative stereotype pressed upon us. We need to be seen in a different light on this level so that when it comes down to serious issues about ill treatment towards black women our humanity, and uniqueness, and diversity as a cultural group is seen, not just the images they want to see or want us to believe about ourselves. When mainstream media doesn’t recognize someone who obviously doesn’t fit the stereotypical mode, it makes us wonder whether they see it at all.

I’m not totally convinced that Kerry’s absence from this cover was a huge racial slight but I won’t hesitate to make a mental note about Vanity Fair’s continual avoidance of black women on their covers. Publishing is a business at the end of the day and the editors have to cater to their demographic, but they should be conscious of the fact that they could be missing out on a chance to expand their readership by literally adding a little more color to their covers. I’m personally going to wait to see just how successful “Scandal” becomes and monitor mainstream media’s coverage of her, then I think we can make a more educated opinion about whether, as Clutch writer Britni Danielle said, “this is just another example of Hollywood welcoming black actors into the fold, but keeping them on the fringes.”

Do you think Vanity Fair should have placed Kerry Washington on their “Special TV Issue” cover?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • fee

    what’s more offensive is that these women have to be pictured in lingerie. really?

  • Jerjorju

    Has Kerry been featured in “mainstream” movies or televisions?  I can’t think of any.  If she hasn’t, the “mainstream” buyer of this magazine will not know who she is.  I am sure that more people will recognize Sophia from the hit Modern Family, her Pepsi and Kmart (her own fashion line there) commercials, and appearances on talk shows. 

  • Papillon

    Downton Abbey. Not Downtown Abbey. TON, not TOWN.

  • Katrikapaprika


  • JillianXO

    You are out of control and looking for reasons to be angry.  Look at your own self.

  • IllyPhilly

    Yall shoulda put her pic up on main page then vanity fair cover

  • RedButterfly81

    Who cares, I don’t think Kerry would care if she’s not on the cover of some stuck up white people magazine anyway!

    •  Lol exactly. Vanity Fair is not for us. I have never read an issue and I never will. VF could care less if I, as a black woman, spend my money on their magazine. Their demographic is: White women, between the ages of 21-50 roughly.

  • MissPretty

    She’s not on the cover because her show hasn’t premiered yet.  I don’t think this is a racial issue.  

    • Guest2

      Agreed. People are too hypersensitive. Who cares if she has a staring role? It hasn’t aired!

      You’re wasting our political capital. This is not a “race” issue. Ridiculous waste of time.

  • has anyone thought that Kerry may have wanted to share the cover?

  • Black folks have our own ….so who cares about white magazines. 

  • Tagirl

    I’m just happy she made the issue. That in itself is still big and great for her. I’m intrigued by her show, “Scandal.”

  • Janietb94

    The show hasn’t aired yet! Geez…give me a break! And Sofia Vergara is NOT white! Saying that is just plain stupid! Maybe we need to focus on the lack of roles for Black women and for all women of color, not just a magazine cover.

    •  Sofia Vergara is white.

    • FromUR2UB

      Have you heard of black hispanics?  Likewise, there are white hispanics.  If it’s stupid, then tell that to the Census Bureau and the creators of every questionnaire that listed those distinctions. Google Cuba, for example, and look at the people.     

  • Rachael

    To be honest, the women in the forefront are women who have shows that are on and poppin. Kerry’s show hasn’t even aired yet, so in a way she is vying for the attention of television viewers who are already familiar with these starlets and their widely accepted shows. I love “Bones” and “Revenge”. The rest I don’t bother with. 
    I’m more offended as to why my girl Regina King wasn’t in this spread. Southland is definitely on and poppin’. 

    • I totally agree. Southland is one of the best shows out now.

    • JAY DUB

      EXACTLY!!! You hit the nail on the head Rachael. Southland is a popular show and Regina King is name checked everytime they mention it. If any black actress was gonna be featured in such a magazine(on the cover or not) if would be Regina.

  • What black woman read Vanity Fair to begin with? and I got side tracked because even though she is in the background I can’t get over how good she looks.

  • Grbmskl

    no she shouldnt be on the cover because her damn show hasnt premiered yet we dont know if its gonna be a hit or not stop complaining black people!!!

  • FromUR2UB

    Let’s stop and think about this:

    1) Why would a white publication care about those reasons given for why Kerry Washington should
    appear on their cover?  Their magazines, awards, movies, commercials, new stories are for feeding their narcissism.
    2)  Is this a surprise? 
    3) Really?!
    4) Is their ice colder?

    Are we ever going to stop chasing those validation carrots?  When I want to see people who look like me, I look to one of our publications or productions.  That’s what they are for.  They allow us to celebrate ourselves and see our people represented in the ways that are satisfying to us.  Our narcissism?  Yep. Why not?

    It’s time we stop looking for the sun to rise in the west.

    • Papillon

      “Validation carrots”

      I love that.

  • Smacks_hoes

    Let’s call a spade a spade, vanity fair is more of a white persons magazine. Considering the sales are mainly white women did you really expect them to put a black chick in the center? How often do you see a white woman grace the covers of ebony and jet? Lol like never. Honestly these types of things don’t really concern me. This world is going to hell in a hand basket. I’m more concerned with saving my soul then who is on the front or in the center of an irrelevant magazine. Sorry it’s not that serious and shouldn’t be an issue.

  • Garcia

    Sofia Vergara was put on the cover because she is white.

    • perez

      charo is not white shes the only one of color on the cover and we should accept that at least she is on

    • Tagirl

       Um, she is not white. How do you figure that. Didn’t know Colombians considered themselves white.

      • Freebee33

        Some of the do…

      • moionfire

        Colombian is a nationality- not a race or an ethnicity. There are dozens of white, black, indian, etc Colombians.

  • JN31

    What it really shows is the lack of Black women with leading roles on television. Kerry Washington appears in many mainstream (white) magazines so it isn’t like she’s a newcomer. Even though her show hasn’t aired, her movies have and she could have been on the main cover- if not for that, then because of the flack they’ve received before.

    Also, her placement in the shoot is obscure and almost in the back like a prop; almost vying for the attention of others. At this point, I don’t expect these magazines to take women of color seriously. Sofia Vergara doesn’t look like most of the latinas I know. The problem with that is, when there are magazines or websites (ahem) that should be directed towards woman of color, you can bet your dollar that a white woman is usually name checked in it quite often.