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All-White Actresses Photoshoot Was A “Sad Look” Says Jessica Chastain

On Thursday,  the Los Angeles Times magazine The Envelope released its cover—and low and behold, it was a spread featuring six white actresses with the unfortunate tagline, “A Shift in Focus: Actresses call for change in the way many stories are told.” Yup.

The six actresses featured were Jessica Chastain, Annette Bening, Kate Winslet, Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan, and Diane Kruger. Of the six, the one who got the fiercest pushback for the all-white cover was Jessica Chastain, because she is the one who has publically advocated for equality using her platform online. On Saturday, Chastain responded to the backlash, admitting that this whole thing was a “sad look.”

Part of the problem I find with this statement is that it is clearly a response to something rather than addressing it the moment it came out. And Chastain’s own inability to think of 5 WOC who led or co-led films this year is a problem in and of itself.

Movies with a WOC as a leading/main character: Girls Trip, Mudbound, Beatrice at Dinner, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man Homecoming, The Greatest Showman, The Shape of Water, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2. They may not all be “high-brow” movies, but they feature women of color in main/lead roles and most of them are telling interesting stories about those women.

I hold all the pictured actresses accountable, because there is no way they don’t know how this looks and didn’t understand that the moment they stepped into this photoshoot. Where was the pushback and questioning while they all smiled for the camera?

More importantly: how are white women who have established power in the industry helping to produce work that elevates women of color? Are they even trying? Because let us not forget that these actresses also need to work themselves. Would they step down from a movie role that would give them money if it meant allowing a woman of color to be elevated to that spot? Should that kind of thing even be the sole responsibility of women?

I find myself not wanting to fully drag Chastain because she does often mean well, while that is often not enough, and I think we should place equal, if not more, blame on those who are behind the camera organizing this shoot. Why didn’t they think about getting Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer, who is staring in a period piece/genre film that deals explicitly with discrimination? Why not get Zendaya, who has been in a huge Marvel-blockbuster this year and has been a very vocal advocate for diversity? Even Vanity Fair has the decency to usually put one woman of color on their female roundtable. It is a huge failing of the people who created this photoshoot and it is them, not Chastain, who truly deserve the backlash. What were they thinking?

Would I love for white female actresses to stand up for their fellow WOC actresses, and demand they have equal access to this kind of publicity so that they can be heard? Absolutely. Will they? Doubtfully, because so many actresses live in fear of being seen as “difficult” that they have a hard time advocating for themselves; advocating for other people may not be on the radar. But this is in no way an excuse for their complicit behavior, and I hope that all the actresses, not just Chastain, get asked about it.

(via Jezebel, image: Columbia Pictures)

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