Beyonce's Historic Vogue Cover Is A Step Towards Diversity
In the Carter’s explosively popular and visually stunning music video for the track “APESHIT” from their unannounced joint album, the power couple took over the Louvre Museum in Paris. The significance of Beyonce and Jay-Z's ability to film the hit from Everything is Love in the Louvre not only speaks to the power of their celebrity, but also to the expansion of racial diversity in popular culture. The couple uses the backdrop of one of the most well-known museums in the world to place themselves in the center as representatives of wealth, beauty, luxury, opulence, talent, and especially black excellence. Jay-Z and Beyonce stand amid pieces of priceless art and the implication is clear: they belong.
The album and music video dropped simultaneously on June 16, 2018, and the couple has continued their reign on their “On The Run II” Tour and, most recently, Beyonce’s historic Vogue cover. In the September 2018 issue, Beyonce makes her fourth appearance on the cover of the magazine, shot by Tyler Mitchell, a 23-year=old African American man. This marks the first time in the history of the magazine that a black person has shot the cover. In a statement made by the magazine, Vogue suggested Mitchell and Beyonce selected him. Additionally, editor-in-chief Anna Wintour gave Mrs. Carter some creative control over the photography and article for the issue. Wintour has a reputation for being extremely selective in her editorial process, and so her allowing Beyonce to have a say in the final production is impressive. The last time Beyonce covered Vogue in September 2015, she famously refused to give an interview. At the time, Beyonce’s marriage was in turmoil as both she and her husband released music in 2016 and 2017, respectively, addressing Jay-Z’s infidelity. However, Everything Is Love has confirmed their conviction to move past the scandal and continue as one of the most influential couples in the world.
In her article for the issue, Beyonce discusses the importance of expanding the cultural framework to be inclusive of all races. She has faced adversity due to the color of her skin, and yet her landmark issue of one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world exemplifies the capacity to rise above these barriers: “Until there is a mosaic of perspectives coming from different ethnicities behind the lens, we will continue to have a narrow approach and view of what the world actually looks like...That is why I wanted to work with this brilliant 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell.” By paving the way for a young, talented black male to succeed, Beyonce expresses her hope that this legacy of diversity will carry on. Tyler Mitchell grew up in Atlanta and attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He first gained a presence on Instagram and through filming music videos. He eventually photographed campaigns for established brands like Givenchy and Marc Jacobs as an independent artist. His digital cover for Teen Vogue advocating gun control impressed Conde Nast’s creative director, Raul Martinez, who suggested Mitchell for the Beyonce cover.
In his interview with Vogue, Mitchell said of his perspective in representing black people, “For so long, black people have been considered things...We’ve been thingified physically, sexually, emotionally. With my work, I’m looking to revitalize and elevate the black body.”
Other magazines seem to be taking note and following suit. This September, nearly every fashion publication is featuring a black woman on their cover. Rihanna will be the first black woman to cover British Vogue in the magazine’s 102-year history. Zendaya covers Marie Claire. Tiffany Haddish covers Glamour. Lupita Nyong’o covers Porter. Naomi Campbell covers Love. The list goes on, and the timing is no accident- September is the most important issue for fashion magazines.
Vogue launched in 1892, and the cultural landscape has changed dramatically in those 126 years. The magazine did not begin dabbling in diversity until 1974 when supermodel Beverly Johnson was featured on the cover. In 1989, Naomi Campbell covered the September issue. Since then, Halle Berry made the cover in 2010, followed by Joan Small in 2014 (a cover she shared with two other models), and Beyonce in 2015. Considering the magazine has puts out an issue every month for 126 years, only five of the models of roughly 1,512 issues have been black. One Hispanic woman, Talisa Soto, made the cover in 1989, and it was not until last year that an Asian woman was featured in a cover shared with six other models. Among those hundreds of covers, only one has been shot by an African American, Tyler Mitchell.
A publication as established and regarded as Vogue that prides itself in foreseeing and presenting trends to their audience should also pride itself in reflecting the diversity of that same audience. Beyonce’s popularity and fandom is undeniable, and so the fact that she is just now receiving impressive creative control shows that Vogue is open to maintaining its relevancy. Hopefully her cover is a step towards inclusivity that will continue to be mirrored by similar outlets.