Have you had a chance to nab a copy of Vanity Fair’s September issue yet? Last weekend, I spent an afternoon flipping through it and just trying to sink into each page and thinking about how comprehensive and cohesive the vision that Radhika Jones and guest editor Ta-Nehisi Coates and the whole team at VF put together really comes across on the physical page; there’s of course an accompanying Longform interview with TNC (h/t Brady), which you would not be faulted for missing because I mean this is the man’s seventh interview on the show.
But! I found it a deeply worthwhile listen just in terms of TNC’s insight on magazine-making, and in particular, he stops to give what I think is long overdue props to Radhika for spending the past few years quietly transforming the magazine into the kind of platform where putting an Amy Sherald painting of Breonna Taylor on the cover in 2020 doesn’t just feel like some mainstream brand piggybacking off the #revolution. For example, just in the past 12 months, as TNC points out, there were already three Black women who appeared on VF covers: Viola Davis (July/August), Janelle Monáe (June), Lupita Nyong’o (October 2019).
For context, 17 Black people total had appeared on VF’s cover between 1983 and 2017 (<- when Radhika took over — and hey, remember that groundbreaking first cover with Lena Waithe?? Remember when people hated it and literally called it “Ebony Fair”??). This isn’t to say VF is now magically the most representative glossy in the universe (note that the Viola Davis issue was the first time a cover was shot by a Black photographer in VF history). As with any mainstream pub, there’s pleeeeenty more work to be done, but I do think this is all an enormous lesson in that you can’t casually call up Ta-Nehisi to do a sweeping special issue on race if you don’t already have a standing track record to work with.
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