Earlier this week, the reasonable world cringed in unison when they discovered that Numero‘s March issue will feature an artificially darkened 16-year-old model wearing a riot of colors and textures in a spread called (ughhhhhh) African Queen. That’s a shot from the whole regrettable thing up there–American teenager Ondria Hardin all bronzed up for that extra “ethnic” touch.
Of course, this shit happens so frequently now that we’re all getting sick of asking the same questions, “Why not cast a woman of color?” “Seriously, how do you not understand this is offensive and tasteless?” and, also, “Why is the fashion industry completely fucking tone deaf about this?” And, while we’re imagining a better world anyway, how about not dressing up 16-year-olds in thousands of dollars of designer clothes and shooting them like this? Just throwing out ideas, guys!
Well, in a completely unprecedented move, the photographer involved, Sebastian Kim, has tried to offer some insight into why Numero would darken a white girl and cast her for an editorial called African Queen (sorry, but just typing this is surreal).
Kim took to his agency’s blog to try and clarify some things:
I would like to apologize for any misunderstanding around my recent photos for Numero France. It was never my intention (nor Numero’s) to portray a black woman in this story. Our idea and concept for this fashion shoot was based on 60′s characters of Talitha Getty, Verushka and Marissa Berenson with middle eastern and Moroccan fashion inspiration. We at no point attempted to portray an African women by painting her skin black. We wanted a tanned and golden skin to be showcased as part of the beauty aesthetic of this shoot.
It saddens me that people would interpret this as a mockery of race. I believe that the very unfortunate title “African Queen” (which I was not aware of prior to publication) did a lot to further people’s misconceptions about these images. It was certainly never my intention to mock or offend anyone and I wholeheartedly apologize to anyone who was offended.
While we want to say we really, really appreciate that Kim bothered to address this and to agree that the editorial’s name is “unfortunate” (note the stark contrast to Dolce & Gabbana‘s recent racist tomfoolery)–we think it goes without saying that this doesn’t make things better.
But now’s the fun part: whenever we write anything about racial insensitivity in the fashion industry, so come the waves of commenters insisting it’s not racist.
…They’ve gotten bolder lately, too, and started saying that it’s racist to criticize stuff like this (check the comments on the agency’s site, too). Perhaps these commenters are the same people spraying down white models with dark paint for African-inspired fashion shoots? …Or the people wondering why there’s no white history month?