In March’s issue of Numéro France, 16-year-old Ondria Hardin was photographed by Sebastian Kim wearing blackface for an editorial called, “African Queen.” The makeup, done by artist Maud Laceppe, would be otherwise gorgeous had it not included an allover, head-to-toe shade of brown foundation painted on the white model’s skin.
The shoot consists of Hardin wearing “traditional” (I keep that in quotes because this is what the producers of the editorial believe in traditional, rather than a historically accurate depiction) African clothing, jewelry and hairstyling. And considering they were going for “African queen,” why would they not choose a black model for the shoot? As Jezebel points out, even Ford Models, the agency that represents Hardin, also has multiple black models in their ranks. There is obviously no actual shortage of tall, thin and pretty black women out there who are capable of modeling wonderfully, so why on earth would Numéro find it so difficult to locate one that could do this shoot without requiring any form of blackface? You know, because they’re already black.
But no, it simply makes more sense to put a white model in full blackface/body, which likely (A) costs more (B) jeopardizes the clothing (C) is a fucking ridiculous idea. Plus, the shoot includes several poses that seem parody-like, as well as subservient and overly sexualized in the way colonial men long viewed women of color. Add in the fact that the model is barely in her mid-teens and this entire editorial is just upsetting.
The idea of wearing blackface is, for some reason, still a valid one to some people. Despite its repugnant history and its rather horrible past wearers and its incredibly negative connotations, blackface continues to be something that certain white people do — seriously, when was the last time you heard about somebody of another race donning it? — and then getting incredibly defensive when people very rightfully beg to know WTF they are thinking. “This is a free country!” they say, “This is hilarious, not racist! You all are too sensitive! This is edgy, this is fashion! PC CULTURE IS RUINING MY LIFE.”
Yeah, no. I give up on those people. Anybody who still thinks blackface is cool in fashion is a ridiculous human being, and not Betsey Johnson/Grumpy Cat/Tavi Gevinson’s hats ridiculous, but ridiculous as in “behaving like a satirical character and being completely unaware of it” ridiculous.
I am all about interesting, fresh, strange and new, and I look forward to work from photographers, designers and stylists who achieve art pieces that possess those qualities, but blackface is anything but fresh and new. At best, it’s tired and old; at worst (and in reality, really), it’s racially offensive, not to mention completely unnecessary. Ondria Hardin was not the only model available, and I guarantee there were plenty of black models who could’ve easily done this shoot exceptionally well. Take a look through the photos and see for yourself, though.
Photos: Numero France