Dodai Stewart accuses the publisher of using “exotic people as props.” She uses flimsy arguments that call attention to her own bias and even contradicts herself.
Stewart has no problem with model Irina Shayk posing in Spain while surrounded by matadors because they are performers but when Jessica Gomes poses with similarly ornately-costumed children in China it suddenly evokes “the centrality of whiteness.” The model, who is actually off-center in the photo, is half Asian so Stewart goes after her “Western” swimsuit which she says creates a contrast. No doubt if the model wore Eastern clothes it would be considered even more offensive. She adds that since there is no interaction it is a means of “othering” Asians.
Most of her ire is reserved for photos of model Anne V posing with a rural-looking Chinese man rowing a raft down a river and Emily Didonato posing with a tribal-looking African man in the desert.
Stewart takes offense even when there is interaction between the locals and the models.
“In another shot from Guilin, Guangxi, model Anne V. reclines as a local man uses a pole to propel a raft,” she writes. “A white person relaxing, a person of color working. Tale as old as time. A non-white person in the service of a white person.”
And how exactly would Stewart fix this? Should the model be rowing?
Stewart believes the photo shoot should have a more Western setting like a mall!
“China has tons of skyscrapers and modern cities that make New York look rickety, but this image recreates an age-old narrative in which anything non-Western is quaint, backward and impoverished … A half-naked native makes the shot seem more exotic — even though Namibia is a country with a capital city where there are shopping malls and people, you know, who wear Western clothes,” she writes.
Africa is the birthplace of civilization notes Stewart. “But these shots tap into the West’s past obsession/fetishization with so-called savages, jungle comics and the like,” she adds. Her concern that Africans are being portrayed as uncivilized is shared by Marc Lamont Hill, a professor at Columbia University.
“For me, the African picture was probably the most offensive because it played on some of the most old and stereotypical images, it showed the African as primitive as almost uncivilized,” said Hill.
Similar complaints were made about oriental lingerie from Victoria Secrets, yet Asian models frequently dress in stereotypical Western outfits such the cowgirl. No one complains because there is nothing inherently shameful or offensive about the clothing of a culture. Any negative connotations arise from outside the culture. When these self-appointed defenders assign words like “uncivilized” it’s the equivalent of saying someone is too black. Should traditional peoples be whitewashed out of media because of another person’s hangups?
This fine piece of journalism concludes with a series of insinuations. “Questions: Who is this man? Was he cast? Was he paid? Does he know his ass is in glossy print, all over the United States right now?” she asks.
With no proof Stewart suggests he’s an actor essentially in blackface. On the other hand, Stewart assumes that an actual tribesman is incapable of understanding that his photo will be seen around the world and if he did, he would be embarrassed. She is ascribing her own bias that his clothing is shameful.
A behind-the-scenes special by the Travel Channel reveals the man’s name is Simone. He is, in fact, a member of the nomadic San tribe of South Africa. Photographer Kayt Jones said, “Simone is somebody who connects us to what Namibia is and what its heritage and culture is.”
Sports Illustrated gave the standard non-apology apology. “We apologize to anyone who has taken exception to the way their culture was represented,” they told ABC News.
During a press call, SI swimsuit issue editor MJ Day pointed what should be obvious to everyone. The locations and locals were selected to expose readers to things they normally wouldn’t see and not pictures of Western-style malls that some people want to see.
“We pick these locations very specifically,” Day explained. “That is because we can show people the world. How much of the population can access areas of the world we can access? We feel beauty exists on all levels as well. The beauty is in the people and the places. We want to immerse you as a viewer in these situations.”
Travel Channel general manager Andy Singer said the television special adds context.
“In the magazine you get one snapshot,” said Singer. “In the special you see how the models and crew interact with the locals in a positive way. They really are part of the process.”
Kate Upton joked, “My only locals were penguins.” This model brought her own props, which did add some color. Upton got covered in body paint to recreated the 2000 cover with Daniela Pestova. See all her sexy but not racist pictures at Sports Illustrated.