When Lena Waithe‘s Vanity Fair cover was revealed earlier this week, the response from Black Hollywood and us regular Black folks was instant and unanimous: everyone loved it.
— Lupita Nyong’o (@Lupita_Nyongo) March 22, 2018
Man this beautiful cover of @LenaWaithe has me emotional. For so many of us we don’t feel seen. Truly SEEN. Our talent, work, lives, bodies and even our breath has not been valued. I needed to see this cover today. I think alot of us did. Keep shining mama! https://t.co/uG0wkA43EB
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) March 22, 2018
— Chadwick Boseman (@chadwickboseman) March 22, 2018
Waithe herself even weighed in to thank everyone for the support and to encourage folks to cop the magazine.
grateful to @radhikajones, #annieleibovitz, and @JackieWoodson for seeing me so clearly. I love you all. #VanityFair #WhoSaysABlackLesbianCantBeOnTheCoverOfVanityFair #LetsBlackPantherThisIssue #MyPlayCousinsAreAllGonnaBuyAtLeastTenCopies #RadhikasReignBegins https://t.co/YHpwGK1hqJ
— Lena Waithe (@LenaWaithe) March 22, 2018
I get it. This is a big deal. It’s not everyday that Vanity Fair has a brilliant, dread locced, tatted up, queer, Black woman on the cover. Plus, it’s the first cover with Radhika Jones at the helm as Editor-in-Chief of Vanity Fair. Not to mention the writer for the cover story is National Book Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson.
Definitely a moment for powerful women of color. Duly noted.
However, if I’m being totally honest here, I didn’t particularly love the cover when I first saw it. It looked like a throw-away pic from her shoot with Annie Leibovitz. I told a co-worker that it looked like the next picture was probably the money shot–maybe a full on smile from Waithe and a more intentional looking pose.
When it comes to Black women, I am very protective. We try to maneuver around the slings and arrows coming at us from all directions every single day and sometimes it’s just us that has each other’s backs.
Since I work in media, I am of course hyper aware about how Black women are portrayed. There’s always chatter when a Black woman graces the cover of a mainstream magazine and sometimes it’s not the good kind. Some of these melanin deficient mainstream publications don’t know how to properly light us, do our hair, style our bodies, etc. How many times have you seen a mag catch hell from Black Twitter for making a chocolate sister’s skin five shades lighter or not doing someone’s hair in a way that doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Everyone seemed to love Waithe’s cover, but I thought she deserved better. I wanted to see her more clearly. Even the pics in the story itself seemed like better choices for the cover. (And my word, how I loved that Waithe wore a “Well Read Black Girl” shirt! Word to Glory Edim.)
I didn’t want Vanity Fair to stuff her in a dress and slather a ton of make-up on her to make her look like 98 percent of their usual cover stars. That’s clearly not Waithe’s steez, but I wanted a more powerful statement for the cover; perhaps something that didn’t look like an outtake.
I finally got to read the cover story that is so beautifully penned by Woodson. You can feel the care and love in her words. She’s clearly also a protector of Black women. She made sure Waithe’s story was told the right way. The feature offers a glimpse into the inner-workings of a luminous being who is kind enough to share her talents with the world. The story is also full of great quotes from Waithe, like this one:
“I am tired of white folks telling my stories. We gotta tell our shit. Can’t no one tell a black story, particularly a queer story, the way I can, because I see the God in us. James Baldwin saw the God in us. Zora saw the God in us. When I’m looking for myself, I find myself in the pages of Baldwin.”
After reading the feature, in which Waithe talked about the importance of being seen as she is and not boxed into conformity, I gave the cover photo another look. That quirky expression on her face that approximates a smile seems fitting now. Maybe she’s about to laugh, maybe she’s holding in a secret, maybe she’s smacking her lips. Who knows? She looks like someone who is comfortable in her own skin and we just happened to get caught in her gaze.
If we’re lucky, we’ll stay in her line of vision and she’ll keep telling us stories. Her Emmy award-winning work on Master of None, her critically acclaimed series The Chi, and the approximately 8,462 projects she has in the pipeline now, are all gifts to us.
Thank you Lena Waithe for allowing us to see the God in you.
Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.