The new issue of Vanity Fair, featuring a powerful image of Oscar-winning actor Viola Davis, marks the first time the publication has featured the work of a Black photographer on its cover.
The historic image of Davis, shot by photographer Dario Calmese, shows the 54-year-old in profile, her back facing the camera. The acclaimed actor is dressed in a blue gown with a deep plunge in the back, her hand on her hip.
Davis posted on Twitter that she is “thrilled to share this cover and interview with Vanity Fair.”
Thrilled to share this cover and interview with <a href=”https://twitter.com/VanityFair?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@VanityFair</a>. Available now! <a href=”https://t.co/ne2fnWc5bW”>https://t.co/ne2fnWc5bW</a> <a href=”https://t.co/UNPJcM6YsN”>pic.twitter.com/UNPJcM6YsN</a>
In the interview published in the magazine, Davis noted that the publication has “had a problem in the past with putting Black women on the covers.”
Radhika Jones, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, writes in the issue that 17 Black people have been on the cover (excluding group shots) in the 35 years between 1983 and 2017.
Jones, herself a woman of colour, says she was determined to fix the lack of representation when she took over the job in Dec. 2017. During her tenure, she has so far featured 10 Black cover subjects, including singer and actor Janelle Monáe and TV actor, writer and showrunner Lena Waithe.
“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.’” <a href=”https://t.co/izJBKTFrt7″>https://t.co/izJBKTFrt7</a>
Jones also noted that Calmese’s concept for the cover image took inspiration from the Louis Agassiz slave portraits of the 19th century.
“This image reclaims that narrative, transmuting the white gaze on Black suffering into the Black gaze of grace, elegance, and beauty,” according to Calmese.
In publishing his photo of Davis on the cover, “we celebrate him and honour his vision at this heightened moment in American history,” Jones added.
Dario Calmese is the first black photographer to shoot for Vanity Fair in its magazine history. The pose Viola Davis recreated was the pose of a slave named Gordon or “Whipped Peter” with a scourged back. Powerful statement. Black Photogrophers matter!! <a href=”https://t.co/ltF3CyjwyQ”>pic.twitter.com/ltF3CyjwyQ</a>
In her Vanity Fair interview, Davis discusses the recent racial justice protests, her upcoming role as Michelle Obama, her impoverished upbringing in Rhode Island, and the challenges of being a Black woman in Hollywood, among other topics. The issue hits newsstands on July 21.