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Vanity Fair magazine is out with its annual Hollywood issue. It showcases some of the industry's best talent. And this year's issue is quite different than past years in the following way. As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates tells us, half of the actors on the cover's three-panel foldout are black.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Befitting the occasion, the Oscar nominees on the cover of Vanity Fair's popular Hollywood issue are dressed in formal wear. George Clooney and Jared Leto are elegant in white tie and tails, and Julia Roberts wears the top half of a dinner jacket, a big grin, and very little else. They're joined by not one, not two, but six actors of African ancestry.
SHARON WAXMAN: It's interesting because in years past, it's true that Vanity Fair has been criticized for not having more actors of color as part of their celebration of the best in Hollywood.
BATES: Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief of the online industry daily The Wrap, says it would have been tough not to include Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, who starred in "Mandela," Chadwick Boseman who portrayed Jackie Robinson in "42," Michael B. Jordan from "Fruitvale Station," and, most prominently, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o from "12 Years a Slave." Waxman says 2013 had a plethora of great movies with black themes and black actors.
WAXMAN: And so they deserve, they call out to be put on that cover.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "21ST ANNUAL SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS")
BATES: Nyong'o, already a Screen Actors Guild awardee, appears on the center section of Vanity Fair's three-panel gatefold, and in her shimmering gold gown, she looks like an award statuette. Robin Givhan writes about fashion, style and culture for The Washington Post and other publications, and she says even an inner cover on Vanity Fair is significant.
ROBIN GIVHAN: It is certainly a magazine that sort of pushes you to the forefront of popular culture in a way that I don't think really any other magazine can.
BATES: If you're on the cover of Time, you're a newsmaker, of Car and Driver, you're, well, you're a car. Even Vogue, Givhan says, while hugely prestigious, doesn't have the same kind of reach. It is, at bottom, a magazine about fashion and beauty. Now, most sane people won't kick the opportunity for a Vogue cover out of bed. But if you're on the cover of Vanity Fair, Givhan says, you've gone beyond those borders to cross several different audiences.
And then there's the pressure to look a little more like America. Several past Hollywood covers featured one, maybe two, actors who were people of color. Some special issues, like a 2010 one, were completely alabaster. The Wrap's Sharon Waxman says Vanity Fair's March issue might be multi-tasking: honoring great black actors while maybe making a tacit response to past critics about its lack of diversity on other covers. And that might affect things going forward.
WAXMAN: We've arrived at a time as a society where this should just be kind of a normal thing.
BATES: If only, says writer Givhan, for no other reason than this.
GIVHAN: Diversity is important. Diversity sells.
BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
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