Citizen Parables and Dmitriy T.M. alerted us to this month’s French Vogue.  According to Jezebel, it features exactly zero black models.  It does, however, contain several images of Dutch model Lara Stone painted so as to look black:




These photos are being condemned as contemporary blackface.  I’d like to open it up to discussion:

1.  Is painting a white model so as to look black the same thing (in some important and significant way) as the derogatory minstrelsy with which blackface (with white mouths and red lips) is associated?  Is the intent (dehumanization) the same?  Is the effect the same?   Why or why not?  If not, could it be that we are as inured to racism now as they were then?

2.  Is the real (or part of the) problem the lack of actual black models?  That is, if there were black models in the magazine, would we read these images differently?

3.  If we saw models of different races being painted various colors, would the white model painted black cease to be significant?  Or, because of history, should this always (for the foreseeable future) be off limits?

4.  Is this “edgy” (and, therefore, fashion forward) exactly because it references historical blackface?  In that case, should fashion play with such topics?  Can people in the fashion industry do so responsibly?  And, if so, what would that look like?

More examples and discussion of contemporary “blackface” here, here, here, here, and here.  Also, Bugs Bunny.

NEW! (Mar. ’10): Frida S. sent in the video Paris-Shanghai, written and directed by Karl Lagerfeld. The film is about Coco Chanel’s trip to Shanghai. While there are some Asian actors, there are also quite a few White actors made up to appear stereotypically Asian. Here are all three parts of the film, though only the 2nd and 3rd ones show scenes in Shanghai (where the scenes are, for some reason, shot in black and white, while the Paris scenes are in color):

It reminds me a bit of the first time I saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s and saw Mickey Rooney wearing eye tape to appear Asian. Though at least they don’t have huge buck teeth.

I didn’t watch the whole film, but Friday assures me it’s not particularly good even aside from the “yellowface” aspects.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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