Thursday, April 03, 2008

April , 2008 Vogue Cover of LeBron James & Gisele Bundchen - Racist Imagery?

The monthly cover of Vogue magazine will never be confused with a bastion of multicultural imagery by any means, so it's hard to find fault with the world's elite fashion book when it finally puts an African- American male on the cover.

But the April, 2008 cover (pictured left) has generated a surprising amount of nationwide media coverage and public commentary; most of it negative.

The image of Cleveland Cavalier's basketball phenom LeBron James with model Gisele Bundchen cradled in his left arm continues to draw the attention of local and national media in print, on the Web and on television - where the Today Show had quite a debate.

In an article posted on the fashion industry trade magazine WWD's Website, some black editors and media critics pointed out that the picture points to the larger issue of the way mainstream media portrays African-American men in visual images. Many have even suggested it's sub-conscious reference to King Kong carting off the terrified blond female.

The Garden State's Website quotes a University of Maryland professor as saying the image only serves to reinforce long-held stereotypes of black men, particularly black athletes as savage brutes; the image depicts the laid back James with an intense, scowling open-mouthed snarl as he dribbles a basketball in one hand as he clutches the demure Bundchen with the other.

The controversial image also stirs comparisons to age old myths and hysterical fears about black men threatening white women with their sexuality - myths that once led to the lynching of thousands of innocent black men in this country.

To be fair, James himself seemed unfazed and dismissed criticism of his Vogue cover photo taken by Uber photographer Annie Leibovitz as one of many shots depicting a range of emotions. Maybe, but we see which one hit the stands.

No matter where you stand, it does illustrate an important issue that impacts our collective culturegeist - does the media intentionally manipulate images of black men to play on stereotypes?

Remember it wasn't that long ago that Time magazine presented OJ Simpson's arrest photo on the cover of it's June 27, 1994 - and editors intentionally darkened his skin color from the original photo to make him seem more menacing. Skeptical? Check it out, judge for yourself.

Or maybe people are just envious that James got to spend the day taking snapshots with one of the hottest women on the planet?

As Roy Johnson, editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness observed in the WWD article:

"It's a reminder that as African-Americans, we have come very far to have an African-American male featured on the cover of Vogue, but we have very far to go to continue to educate people within our industry regarding the power of images and the potential impact they can have on their readers."

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