Vanity Fair editor in chief Radhika Jones is calling out the glossy magazine’s long lack of diversity on its covers — something she sought to change when she took the reins in 2017.
In her latest editor’s letter for the forthcoming July/August issue, Jones quotes cover face Viola Davis as saying in her interview that the magazine “has had a problem in the past with putting Black women on the covers.” And Jones agrees, not just about Black women, but also men and other people of color as well as LGBTQ persons.
“For most of the magazine’s history, a Black artist, athlete or politician appearing on a regular monthly issue of Vanity Fair was a rare occurrence,” she said.
Excluding groups and special issues, she counted just 17 Black people on the cover of Vanity Fair in the 35 years between 1983 and 2017. Graydon Carter was editor in chief between 1992 and 2017, while Tina Brown was in charge between 1984 and 1992.
In contrast, she said in her two-and-a-half-year tenure, with the same exceptions for groups and special issues, Vanity Fair has featured 10 Black cover subjects — including Lena Waithe, Janelle Monáe and, now, Davis.
“And we know that Vanity Fair’s evolution has resonated, because in the past two and a half years our audience on every platform has grown, including those of you who subscribe,” Jones claimed.
She further explained that the lack of diversity on the magazine’s cover was something she noticed from the outside and was determined to change when she took over the Condé Nast-owned publication.
“Not just as a corrective measure but because it is my job, and the magazine’s job, to center people who are visionaries, who are moving the culture forward,” she said. “We are not bound to continue the cultural hierarchies we inherit.”
To the best of her knowledge, the July/August issue is also the first time the magazine tapped a Black photographer for the cover.
The photographer, Dario Calmese, describes his cover concept as “a re-creation of the Louis Agassiz slave portraits taken in the 1800s — the back, the welts.”
“This image reclaims that narrative, transmuting the white gaze on Black suffering into the Black gaze of grace, elegance and beauty,” he said. It’s his first major magazine cover.
Condé has come under fire over the past few months for its lack of diversity and reports of a discriminatory workplace for people of color.
As well as the emergence of a photograph of Bon Appétit’s former editor in chief Adam Rapoport in brown face that led to his resignation, there have been a number of allegations of a discriminatory workplace environment for people of color at the food title. This includes claims that only white employees were paid for their appearance on its popular video channel.
Vogue editor in chief and Condé artistic director Anna Wintour has also been put under the spotlight, sparking streams of critical press coverage and rampant rumors of an impending departure, which were quickly quashed by global chief executive officer Roger Lynch.
And The New York Times reported in June that Susan Plagemann, Condé’s chief business officer, who is white, criticized Jones’ cover subjects, stating that they need “more people who look like us.” Plageman denied saying this at the time to the paper through a spokesman.
At its recent NewFronts pitch to advertisers, Lynch pledged to improve the magazine publisher’s record on diversity and inclusion. Those efforts include hiring a new global chief diversity and inclusion officer later this year, “helping to ensure equitable representation within our content across print, digital and video.” He also plans to hire more people of color — POC staffers make up just 30 percent of its U.S. workforce — and to assemble an external diversity council focused on ending racism to work alongside content teams.