For an industry that prides itself on constant change, innovation and evolution, fashion seems incapable of moving forward from certain ideas. For example, the appropriation of other cultures using white models, such as Ondria Hardin‘s recent shoot with Numero in which she donned blackface as an “African queen” or when Karlie Kloss wore a headdress for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Now, the celebrities are getting in on the action, with Michelle Williams wearing redface for the cover of AnOther.
Naturally, fashion magazines feel it’s just so silly to feature an actual Native American person for a cover shoot, so they seem to think it’s best to instead make a white woman look like she is an American Indian using makeup and wardrobe. With her thick bronzer, braids and feather jewelry, you’d have to be purposefully ignoring the conclusion most people would draw from this photograph.
What I find somewhat disturbing is that when people post about blackface, it illicits a much different response than redface or cultural appropriation of Native Americans. Fashion is an industry that takes inspiration from many cultures, yes, but sometimes it steps into simply mimicking other races — almost exclusively using white models, which is one of the reasons why it is such a highly-criticized thing to do.
Ruth Hopkins for Jezebel writes:
Dressed in a braided wig, dull beads, and turkey feathers while sporting a decidedly stoic expression, AnOther Magazine and company ups the ante by putting Michelle in a flannel shirt, jeans, and what appears to be some sort of academic or legal robe. I smell an attempt to portray reservation nobility. Are they endeavoring to capture the spirit of the American Indian Movement (AIM) circa 1973? Is this an ad for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) or the American Indian College Fund (AICF)? Nope. It’s a 33 year old white actress hyping her latest Hollywood project by wearing a cheap costume designed to make her look like she’s the member of another race.
Am I glad that unlike most racist, stereotypical caricatures of American Indians in pop culture today, Michelle is not practically naked? Yes — but just as Blackface is never okay, Redface is never okay. Ever.
Redface is the same as blackface in that there are tons of negative racial connotations throughout history that accompany it. Caricatures, cartoons, mascots and films have long portrayed inaccurate or damaging stereotypes regarding American Indians. Adding “portrait of well-known, seemingly-sensible celebrity” was one I did not hope to add to that list.
Oh, and while I realize the “Michelle Williams: There’s No Place Like Home” is meant to reference Oz: The Great And Powerful, it’s kind of hard not to see a correlation to, say, the millions of Native Americans who were forced out of their own homes (which, likely, there was “no place like”). Also, also, as Hopkins pointed out, L. Frank Baum (writer of The Wizard of Oz) was a disgusting racist who wanted the United States to exterminate every last American Indian. How very magical of him, right?
Overall, this was an insensitive misstep, and one that could’ve been easily avoided. Williams is a huge star, and she has significantly more say in what she poses wearing. I typically love Michelle Williams, but I don’t think I’ll be able to help seeing her differently — particularly her judgment — after this poor decision. It’s uncertain how aware the magazine is of this controversy (or if they even care), but given that their Facebook page simply has the alternative cover of Williams as its profile picture, I am kind of leaning towards a bet on AnOther offering the “not-apology apology” in which, at best, they’re “sorry you feel that way.”
Photos: AnOther Magazine