Vanity Fair’s latest edition is fronted by Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis as photographed by Dario Calmese. It’s the first time a Black photographer has shot the cover.
Calmese photographed Davis for the July/August issue of the magazine. This is his first major magazine cover but not his first assignment for Vanity Fair — he’s previously shot actor and red carpet favorite Billy Porter and Broadway star Adrienne Warren.
Calmese’s work has previously appeared in the magazine, as well as other publications including The New York Times and CBS, according to his personal website.
Davis, 55, is perhaps best known for her role in “Fences,” for which she won the 2017 Academy Award for best supporting actress.
She is also set to play forever first lady Michelle Obama in one-hour drama “First Ladies.”
In the accompanying Vanity Fair article, Davis talks about her upbringing in poverty and life in Hollywood, as well as participating in the recent wave of protests following the death of George Floyd.
“My entire life has been a protest,” Davis says. “My production company is my protest. Me not wearing a wig at the Oscars in 2012 was my protest. It is a part of my voice, just like introducing myself to you and saying, ‘Hello, my name is Viola Davis.’”
Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones used her editor’s letter to talk about the magazine’s role in contemporary culture.
“Our mission at Vanity Fair is to capture the zeitgeist. That includes defining the new creative class, an ongoing project of rebuilding,” she wrote.
She also shared that Calmese described the idea behind the cover as “a re-creation of the Louis Agassiz slave portraits taken in the 1800s — the back, the welts. This image reclaims that narrative, transmuting the white gaze on Black suffering into the Black gaze of grace, elegance, and beauty.”
The latest cover comes amidst a reckoning over racism in the fashion industry.
As Black Lives Matters protests spread around the world, many fashion brands were quick to align themselves with protesters, posting black squares to Instagram on #BlackoutTuesday, and sharing lengthy captions denouncing racism, discrimination and violence.
However, charges of hypocrisy have plagued brands since the onset of the protests, and fashion publications also came under fire.
While Vanity Fair was not singled out, the magazine’s publisher, Condé Nast, did put out a statement in response to criticism of another of its titles, Vogue.
“Condé Nast is focused on creating meaningful, sustainable change and continues to implement an inclusive hiring process to ensure that a diverse range of candidates is considered for all open positions,” said the company in a statement.
Vogue magazine had a similar first nearly two years ago when they featured Beyoncé on the cover of the September issue in 2018, as captured by Black photographer Tyler Mitchell. This was the first time a Black photographer had shot a cover story in the magazine’s then 125-year history.