Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hollywood Shuffle: Oscar Noms & Kevin Hart's Shirtless THR Cover Photo

Comedian/Actor Kevin Hart preps for THR cover pic
With the film awards season well underway, media attention (mainstream, business and social) is once again focused on the lack of diversity in the 2015 Oscar nominations, reflecting a troubling trend in the film industry.

Ava DuVernay, the director of the MLK biopic 'Selma', was (on the surface anyway) measured and cool in her response to not being nominated by The Academy in the best director category.

In a profile written by Gavin Edwards published in the January 29, 2015 issue of Rolling Stone, the 42 year-old DuVernay said of the buzz surrounding her possibly being the first African-American woman to be nominated for best director, "It's not important to me, but I know it's important to other people."   

Director Spike Lee took a more blunt stance about the Oscar snub, he was quoted as saying: "If I saw Ava today I'd say, 'You know what? Fuck 'em'."

While neither DuVernay or leading actor David Oyelowo  were nominated for Oscars, the film itself was nominated in the best picture category.

As an important industry magazine geared towards film and television professionals, The Hollywood Reporter deserves credit for doing a pretty solid job of consistently staying on top of the challenges industry companies and the executives who run the studios, production companies and agencies face in trying to bring more diversity both behind and in front of the camera; in terms of both race and gender.

THR has made it a point to feature a range of African-Americans on the cover of the magazine in recent months, including Shonda Rhimes, Chris Rock, Michael Strahan, Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Hart, Kerry Washington and Sidney Poitier.

But perhaps more importantly, THR reporters and writers have brought up the issue of diversity in both articles on different subjects, and in their informative industry round table discussions with prominent producers, directors, agents, writers and actors.

So I was a bit confused about THR's decision to use a photo of a shirtless Kevin Hart wearing an immense "Marie Antoinette" type of wig on the cover of the January 23rd issue (see photo above). 

Granted, the specific photo above with an array of Afro picks decorating the wig (Hmmm..) was not used for the cover, but another version of it was. 

Now I understand that Hart is a really funny and successful comedian and a popular actor with a string of number one movies to his credit, but he's also a savvy, intelligent industry professional who understands his brand and knows how to operate in Hollywood.  

So why use a cover photo of him with no shirt on wearing a wig?

Alternate THR cover photo of Kevin Hart with pups
A number of different cover photos of Kevin Hart were shot for the cover; why didn't they use this one for instance?  (See left).

This version captures his smile, he's wearing a stylish suit, an expensive watch and he's holding a bunch of cute puppies.

It's funny, cool and to me, more of a reflection of his public personae than him shirtless in a wig.

As a member of the Screen Actors Guild who writes both screenplays and graphic novel scripts, I find The Hollywood Reporter an important and informative source of information about the entertainment industry; that's why I subscribe.

The extensive coverage of the business side of the film and television industry, updates on productions and deals, as well as the insightful one-on-one interviews with influential entertainment executives makes it an indispensable source of information for anyone trying to broaden their understanding of the entertainment industry. 

I read it each week and I honestly can't recall a cover photo of anyone being photographed without a shirt on.

Do I think it's racist? No.

But over the years I've often used this blog to talk about about ways in which the media distorts the perception of African-Americans and the black male physiology in particular; so I think the decision to use the photo is probably more reflective of a degree of non-diversity in the editorial ranks of The Hollywood Reporter than it is an intentional racial insensitivity on their part. 

Perhaps they just thought it would be funny, or were trying to show that he has sex-appeal

But if there was a qualified person of color sitting at the table in the editorial meeting when they were discussing the cover photo of Kevin Hart, I have to think that person would have raised the point I'm trying to illustrate.

If you remember, the editors of Vogue faced quite a bit of heat over a similar cover photo.

Back in April of 2008, I was just one of many mainstream journalists and  bloggers to write about the decision by Vogue to put a picture of basketball player LeBron James cradling Brazilian-German super model Giselle Bundchen on the cover.

Many felt the photo (pictured left) reflected once commonly-used racist depictions of black men as terrifying ape-like savages bent on carrying off white women. 

Those kinds of images were once used to dehumanize black men and reinforce the warped perception of them as second-class citizens to be feared.

A quote by Roy Johnson, the (then) editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness magazine, in an article about the LeBron James photo in the influential fashion industry publication Women's Wear Daily offers relevant perspective on the THR cover photo of Kevin Hart.

Of the LeBron James-Giselle Bundchen Vogue cover photo, Johnson said:

"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."  

It's often said a picture is worth a thousand words.

I remain an avid reader and fan of The Hollywood Reporter, but I would've hoped a magazine like THR would have given a little bit more thought as to the sub-conscious message the picture of a shirtless Kevin Hart in a wig sends to the thousands of members of the entertainment industry who read the magazine; or leave it out on the desk or coffee table in the offices of the prominent Hollywood executives who influence the green lighting of  projects, casting and hiring decisions.

Especially in an industry obviously struggling to bring more balance to the diversity of it's ranks.
A successful, popular (and bankable) young African-American performer gracing the cover of THR is in itself, an important step for the industry. One would hope care would be exercised by the editorial staff to be sure and portray such a person in the best and most professional way possible.

I'm just not sure a photograph of Kevin Hart shirtless and wearing the kind of wig more commonly associated with a perfumed lady of the French court of Versailles portrays him as an industry professional to be taken seriously.

No comments: