I’m Sleep: Why I’m Tired Of People’s So-Called Sexiest Men Alive

November 23, 2015  |  

Last week, the soccer player turned H&M underwear model David Beckham was crowned People’s Sexiest Man Alive. This year marks the 30th year of People’s coveted annual issue and the 19th year since a man of color (Denzel Washington) was given the title. So…was Idris Elba too busy? Was Adam Rodriguez unavailable? Daniel Dae Kim must have had better things to do. Not the right career move for Sendhil Ramamurthy? Michael B. Jordan, Morris Chesnut – did they lose their invitations in the mail? Questions.

In what is otherwise an almost laughable and completely subjective ranking, limited almost exclusively to actors, People has once again gone the sad route of predictability. They have a very limited, very narrow, and very White perception of what it means to be sexy. Now, is it really that serious, you ask? This issue, after all, doesn’t make or break careers. It is not worthy of the countless news segments it has already been a part of, wedged in between actual news of importance like the recent terrorist attacks and the upcoming battle for the White House. And as far as I can tell, the method to People‘s madness likely consists of a room of mostly White staff writers going, “Ooh, what about him?”

But, this People issue does matter, and it is a serious issue, as far as representation is concerned.

This Salon article perfectly describes my gripe with the Sexiest Man Alive title. Nico Lang writes: “Black bodies are often objectified and oversexualized by the media, but too rarely are they portrayed in the same classic, romantic way we allow white men.” So, tongue in cheek or not, People’s Sexiest Man Alive issue matters because of the exclusionary ideals it (un)knowingly upholds. Whiteness is the meniscus against which so-called otherness never measures up. Only, “otherness,” a.k.a., diversity, is an everyday fact of life, especially in these United States.

Ahh, yes. “Diversity.” This year’s buzzword. Diversity, or lack thereof, was recently acknowledged by The Hollywood Reporter after the unveiling of their roundtable issue, whose cover featured eight White actresses the magazine believes will be in contention for next year’s Oscars. As if ready for the backlash they knew the issue would receive, THR tried to wash its hands clean of it by blaming the entertainment industry that they’re very much a part of, one in which White actors still have more access, opportunity and name recognition. So, then, White actors are much more likely to be on their radar than players of color. They didn’t quite understand that part. Not to mention, roundtables are very much a promotional tool aimed at industry insiders, i.e. Oscar voters, who are predominately White and predominantly male. All of this feeds into the myth of poor marketability when it comes to Black actors; to film being a much harder entity for actors of color to break through. To the ground that still needs to be covered, to doors that aren’t fully open. Let’s just hope 2016 doesn’t become another #OscarsSoWhite.

But back to People magazine. What I find of particular interest is the fact that numerous media outlets have reached out to People about their Sexiest Man Alive issue and its lack of diversity, and they declined to comment. That purposeful denial is more of an overt slap in the face than The Hollywood Reporter article. It makes me wonder how companies, how people in positions of power in Hollywood, will respond to A2020, a new Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences initiative aimed at encouraging filmmakers and studios to increase diversity. Will they be down for the cause or continue to find excuses to exclude people of color because they think it’s hard to sell Black overseas?

Many mainstream and predominantly White print publications could benefit from a similar initiative. I’ll just go ahead and throw People magazine in the ring. With their Sexiest Man Alive issue, People magazine has an opportunity to redefine what it means to be sexy. In September alone, Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Misty Copeland, Ciara, Kerry Washington, Amandla Stenberg and Willow Smith all graced the covers of magazines. That was beautifully groundbreaking. Who wouldn’t want to be at the forefront of such change?

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