Thoughts on Michelle Williams' Racist Magazine Cover

By Max Kessler
We reported a while back that Michelle Williams was going to be on multiple covers of AnOther magazine, posting a teaser cover that featured Williams wearing lounge-wear and a veil. Now all of the covers have been released, and the one pictured above is stirring up some controversy. Taking Williams' hair and makeup out of the picture, you'd think that it was a fairly standard shot from a menswear (or forward-thinking womenwear) magazine -- just a shirt, high-wasted jeans, and oversize black robe. Most of us have seen crazier.

But then your eyes move up to Michelle Williams' face and hair. As multiple
journalists and bloggers have pointed out, the long braids and makeup, the feathers, the Western shirt and the stoic expression take on the look of a high fashion portrait of a Native American woman (or, as Ruth Hopkins at Jezebel puts it, like "reservation nobility" in old American Indian Movement campaigns).

The style of dress isn't just what's under fire. Williams donned the cover in part to promote her new movie, Oz, the Great and Powerful, so a line like "There's no place like home" -- the famous quote from The Wizard of Oz -- makes sense as a headline in and of itself. But evoking the image of Native Americans, who were driven out of their homes en masse next to it is awkward if not outright offensive.

It's especially weird to see a parody of Native American garb in an English magazine. It's sort of a common thing we see here in the States -- from girls dressing in headdresses at Coachella to those stupid "Cowboys and Indians" costumes you see around Halloween time. Maybe people think they have a free pass to emulate Native Americans because you don't see the kind of outcry that something like black-face precipitates, or because we've all become accustomed to seeing images of "Indians" on TV and in movies.

Either way it's destructive. And it's just the latest in a long like of European fashion mags making racist editorials. Remember Lara Stone in blackface at Vogue Paris? The recent "African Queen" scandal at Numéro? The "Haute Mess" editorial in Vogue Italia? It's as if European magazines are perfectly comfortable channeling the cultures of American minorities when it suits them because they don't consider it part of European heritage.

Regardless of the culture, Michelle Williams, the editorial staff at AnOther, and any other editorial team should know better than to showcase the appropriation of Native American (or African American, or Latino) culture by someone white, privileged and enormously rich. Slavery and systematic oppression are a part of all our history. You don't need me to tell you that.

In this day and age, where everything that makes it to the web is analyzed over and over, it makes you wonder what's at work. Or, in this case, who's not speaking up at work. Not a single person, from the editorial assistant to the Editor In Chief at AnOther magazine to Michelle Williams' PR team, looked at this and thought: "Oh shit, this is really offensive?" Did someone see it and not say anything for fear of getting in trouble? Or are people simply trying to make headlines?

Either way, something needs to be done. I think it's time for magazines large and small -- whether AnOther or, yes, even PAPER -- to consider the Public Editor model set up at larger publications (such as Margaret Sullivan's role at the New York Times). While it's unrealistic to expect smaller outlets to be in a position to hire someone as a full-time Public Editor, that doesn't mean there aren't alternatives. Many magazines have countless contributing editors and editors-at-large whose day-to-day (or month-to-month) involvement is sporadic and who can offer a more objective and fresh set of eyes.

Maybe it will do something, maybe it won't -- either way, we're fucking tired of seeing racist editorials.

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