Magazine Cover Diversity Needs to Be More Than a Trend

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September is the most important month for fashion magazines and other publications. In the last couple of weeks there has been a lot talk online, because 8 magazines featured African-American women on their covers this September:  Serena Williams, Willow Smith, Amandla Stenberg, Queen Latifah, Misty Copeland, Beyoncé, Ciara, and Kerry Washington. All of these women were featured on the respective covers of publications like Essence, Shape, Self, Vogue, and Variety.

Considering the historical lack of diversity on magazine covers, these images are noteworthy and long overdue. While these September issues are definitely a positive development, the fact that these covers and their timing are so important highlights how rare this is. Will this September finally be a turning point for diversity on magazine covers?

If we compare and look at diversity after “breakthrough” years in another entertainment industry, film, what we’ll find is that the recognition and visibility of diverse actors hasn’t become the norm.

While in 2014 Lupita Nyong’o won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in 12 Years a Slave, and Pharrell won Best Song for “Happy”, this year the Oscars were the subject of a lot of criticism because of lack of diversity. According to director Spike Lee in The Hollywood Reporter, the 2015 Oscar’s season wasn’t going to be like last year’s, during which Pharrell and Nyong’o went home with the golden statue.

In that interview Lee said: “There were a lot of black folks up there with 12 Years a Slave, (director) Steve (McQueen), Lupita, Pharrell. It’s in cycles of every 10 years. Once every 10 years or so I get calls from journalists about how people are finally accepting black films. Before last year, it was the year (in 2002) with Halle Berry, Denzel (Washington) and Sidney Poitier. It’s a 10-year cycle. So I don’t start doing backflips when it happens.”

Selma, the film about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, was largely snubbed in the 2015 Oscars. David Oyelowo, who portrayed Dr. King, was considered a serious contender for Best Actor but wasn’t nominated. In addition, Selma director Ava DuVernay, wasn’t nominated in the Best Director category (no woman was).

The film was only nominated for two awards, Best Picture and Best Original Song for “Glory”, which was recorded by singer-songwriter John Legend and rapper Common. Both Legend and Common performed the song at the Oscars ceremony, where the song went on to win the award; this was Selma’s only Oscar win.

At this year’s Emmys Viola Davis, who has spoken out about the lack of dark-skinned women in Hollywood, became the first African-American woman to win in the category for Best Actress in a Drama. In her acceptance speech which you can read here, she addressed the lack of opportunities for women of color, stating: “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people… people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.”

As I had written before, a lack of diversity on magazine covers is an industry-wide problem. For example, the Fashion Spot reported last year that magazines like Vogue U.K., Vogue Netherlands, Teen Vogue, LOVE, Número, and the U.S. and U.K. versions of Harper’s Bazaar, had no models of color on their 2014 covers. Model Jourdan Dunn has spoken out about “the lack of black faces in the industry.”

The September covers are a step in the right direction, but more visibility for women of color is needed. It’s necessary for women of color to regularly be seen and heard in different media outlets, including on magazine covers, so that it becomes the new norm instead of a trend that is carried out periodically.


Mariela Santos-Muniz Picture

I’ve known I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was a kid and this year I founded Verbatim Translations LLC, which specializes in English to Spanish and Spanish to English translations. In addition, I currently co-tweet about women’s sports and female athletes from @WMNSPORTSWORLD. In 2015 I graduated from Boston University with an M.A. in International Relations and International Communications, after completing a B.A. in Humanities from the Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. Writing is a passion of mine and I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute to Women’s iLab. I also enjoy reading, listening to music, learning, and thinking that I would be a Gryffindor if I lived in Harry Potter’s world.

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