Allison Samuels on how Scandal star Kerry Washington landed Vanity Fair’s August cover and why it’s well past time that an African-American actress had her own cover.
Over the years, Vanity Fair Magazine has had its share of vocal critics when it comes to the diversity of features—or lack thereof—on its highly coveted magazine covers. Few African-Americans have had the opportunity to grace the front of the glossy high profile magazine, and the slim few African-American actresses that made the cut for Vanity Fair’s yearly Hollywood young starlet issue usually found themselves behind the fold.
But 2013 marks the changing of the guard, as actress Kerry Washington graces the August issue. Washington is the first black woman to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair since Beyoncé in 2005 and the only African-American actress to do so alone.
“I did a double take when I saw it on the stands,’’ said 32-year-old Jasmine Howard from Los Angeles. “Vanity Fair has great articles but I usually don’t buy it because they have so few faces of color on the outside or inside. I bought this one as soon as I saw it.’’
It seems Washington’s head-turning role, as Olivia Pope on the hit ABC show Scandal, is too hot and too juicy to ignore. The show is loosely based on the life of Judy Smith, a D.C. consultant and lawyer, and started as a mid-season replacement in its first season. In its second season, the show has become a runaway hit and the shining star of ABC’s Thursday night lineup. A great deal of the show’s success can be traced Washington’s dead-on performance as a no-nonsense Washington power player, who finds herself knee deep in some of the city’s most high profile scandals.
But fans of the popular television show have even more reasons to celebrate Vanity Fair’s new cover. While Washington has sizzled on the small screen in Scandal, and on the large screen in last year’s major box office draw Django Unchained, mainstream magazine covers have been few and far between for the actress. She recently appeared on the June issue of Elle, but other covers have mostly been limited to African-American publications.
“I’m quite sure if Kerry were an white actress with both a hit television show and a hit movie, the magazine covers would have been back to back for the last year or so,’’ said one African-American television producer. “But this business doesn’t work like that. They worry about sales and if a magazine with a black woman on the cover will fly off the stands. It’s much easier for them to just put Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover for the 20th time and have her say absolutely nothing new or interesting.’’
In a March Women’s Wear Daily story, Erik Maza noted that Rihanna’s recent Vogue cover sold poorly on the newsstands, “32 percent below the [magazine’s] six-month average that ended in December.”
That said, most in the African-American community are applauding Vanity Fair’s decision to highlight Washington’s success and star power on the magazine’s front page. Washington’s Twitter page is filled with congratulations on the striking cover, one that features the star with slicked back hair and outfitted in a body hugging white swimsuit. Twitter is also filled with tweets from black women saying they will buy Vanity Fair for the very first time: