Even Beyoncé gets bad press, but is it deserved? Yesterday (February 23), photos of the R&B starlet, and Jay-Z’s wife, were revealed of her cover shoot for French fashion magazine L’Officiel Paris. A slight furor has arisen over the images because the fair complexioned singer’s skin was darkened, causing critics to say the look is akin to blackface.
According to L’Officiel Paris, the make up and clothing she donned for the photo shoot was a nod to the music of Fela Kuti (and the magazine’s 90th anniversary). Allegedly, Beyoncé was so moved by Kuti’s music after watching Broadway musical Fela!—Jay-Z is one of its co-producers—that she will be incorporating the late African musicians sounds in her next project.
But considering the hateful and racist imagery many have equated her look too, was it prudent? African-Americans do come in many hues.
“It appears as though Beyoncé and/or the magazine’s intent was to pay homage to her African roots as expressed by a member of her team in a behind-the-scenes video,” Tracey Ford, Editor of AOL’s BoomBox blog says. “She's an African-American woman. Why is it controversial for her to want to honor her roots by highlighting that women come in different shades... If that’s in fact what the shoot was attempting to showcase?”
It’s tough to make a case that L’Officiel and Beyoncé, who has yet to comment on this matter, are simply making excuses for a misstep. To many the photography and art in and of itself is a success.
“The photographs are beautiful—both those where Beyoncé wears brown paint and those without,” Demetria L. Lucas of abelleinbk.com and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: Advice for Living Your Single Life & Enjoying Mr. Right Now says. “Perhaps if Beyonce’s painted face included an exaggerated mouth and red lips, I would share in the outrage of those who call her look “offensive” or “minstrel-like.” But since it doesn’t, I cannot.”
Lucas continues, “Darker skin isn’t bad, but from the loud reaction to a pale-skinned woman going chocolate for fashion and/or art, you easily could be led to believe that it somehow is. I hear the naysayers of the shoot loud and clear, but their cries sound like a gross overreaction. It’s problematic that so many confuse a boundary-pushing, high- fashion editorial with somehow mocking or diminishing Black people and their hues.”
Color complexes between light, dark and everything in between are nothing new in the African-American community, and society at large.
“Beyoncé is beautiful, talented and a huge American star, so maybe she should have known better, but for all we know the dark make-up on her face that doesn't appear on the rest of her body could be an artistic statement about her ancestral history or an abstract message about the diversity in phenotype in Africa,” Timmhotep Aku, Editor of TheBVX.com says. “Contrary to the popular misconception, Blacks of every hue exist in Africa—even with no 'white blood' coursing through their veins. Honestly, I think this is much ado about nothing.”
This could also be a case of extra scrutiny due to the singer’s immense success.
“Being Beyoncé at this point is both a gift and a curse,” Georgette Cline, Editor at AOL Music and Rap-Up.com says. “The woman can’t really do anything without her actions being scrutinized, even if it’s posing for a magazine’s fashion spread in makeup that darkens her skin complexion. The shoot’s definitely tasteful and has artistic merit but like beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder, which is why she’s coming under fire in the first place.”
Nevertheless, in light of the connotations blackface denotes, even if not intentionally, many believe Beyoncé and her camp, should have known better.
“Given the controversial history surrounding blackface, it’s impossible to believe that both Beyoncé and her team didn’t think of the racial implications in painting her face,” Steven J. Horowitz, Associate Editor at YRB Magazine, says. “In an age when racism is still a prevalent issue, and where other artists like will.i.am have faced backlash for darkening their skin, she should have realized that anything remotely resembling blackface would raise fire from the smoke.”
Besides will.i.am, who was criticized for his all black everything look at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, British singer Estelle also faced criticism for the use of dark black make up in her video for “Freak.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, Beyoncé also faced criticism when the makeup line she endorses, L’Oreal, was accused of lightening her complexion in ads.
“Beyoncé can’t please anyone apparently. When she’s in L’Oreal ads or showing up the Grammy’s she’s too light or ‘trying to be white,’ but when she returns to her roots (no Alex Haley) and honoring a West African icon she's attacked for appearing in 'blackface,'” says Aku. I think we should cut Beyoncé some slack on this one. First of all, I don't think the French are as conscious of racial faux pas as we are and that may've led to the unintentionally insensitive creative direction.”
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