Michelle Williams Poses as a Racist Caricature


So, here’s something. Actress and Brooklyn resident Michelle Williams is on the cover of the latest AnOther Magazine and she looks…different from how she usually appears. How does she look different exactly?

Well, for starters she’s wearing a dark wig with long, thick braids. Her hair is adorned with feathers. The photograph is black and white, and her face is heavily made up to emphasize her cheekbones and general bone structure. Jezebel flat-out says that Williams is posing in “Redface.” Refinery29 agrees with this assessment and says that not only is the photo evocative of Native Americans because of the style of dress and the wig, but also because it references traditional portraiture of Native Americans. Refinery29 points out that the “definite contouring around the nose and the cheekbones…not only makes her look nearly unrecognizable, but also appears to mimic the stark relief of facial features often seen in early portraits of Native American women. The same mimicry applies [to] her stoic, unsmiling pose — also a typical trope in that particular genre and period of art history.”

I think that the reference is pretty damn clear. It doesn’t take much more than a superficial glance at the image to see what look the stylist was trying to achieve. This raises a lot of questions, of course. Why was Williams ok with this? Did she really not consider the image’s potential to offend? Is she unaware of the implications of a white woman assuming the clothes and physical signifiers of another race or culture? Furthermore, Williams is promoting the film “Oz: The Great and Powerful” and the cover includes the headline “There’s No Place Like Home.” Refinery29 points out that while the line is clearly a nod to the film, it is hard to ignore “the fact that thousands of Native Americans were forcefully ousted from their homes (not to mention slaughtered and denied full rights of citizenship) when European settlers came to this continent.”

This obviously isn’t the first time that a fashion magazine has shown zero sensitivity to issues of race or cultural appropriation, but it seems particularly disappointing this time because of Williams’s involvement. When a racially insensitive editorial or advertisement features a model, it is usually the publication or company behind the photographs that gets blamed. This is frequently because it is assumed that the model—unless very well-known—has limited agency as to how she is portrayed. However, Michelle Williams is an Oscar-nominated star, who presumably has final approval over how she is styled, so the fact that she tacitly condones this is, frankly, shocking. I refuse to believe that it’s too much to expect some degree of thoughtful deliberation before putting together a fashion spread. And for every person who thinks that condemning this cover is over-reacting and that it shouldn’t be taken that seriously because it’s fashion, I will just say bullshit. Just because something is related to fashion, doesn’t mean that it can’t be aware of a greater consciousness and of society at large. We can all do better.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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  1. Lately every time I hear about someone getting offended by someone’s racist attire, it’s white people complaining. Every single time. You want to know what’s odd and racist? That there aren’t more minorities in the media. Maybe work on that.

  2. What a ridiculous response to this article! Like Kristen Iversen is in charge of hiring? Secondly, I’ve worked in print, (magazine &newspaper) radio, tv & film and I can tell you that all of those work environments were extremely culturally diverse – much more so than other fields that I’ve worked in. (medicine & non-profit) Thirdly, you’re attacking someone for standing up to racism because of the color of their skin? Ah, isn’t that being racist? Seriously, there is no pleasing some people! Either you’re part of the solution or part of the problem – decide already!

  3. You’re lying, Tasha, or stupid. Likely, both. Which makes you the problem. Media more diverse than medicine? That’s asinine. This office is about as diverse as an Iowa state fair. As is the case with most in the biz in this country.

    RF, one of the most poignant comments I’ve read on this site. Thumbs don’t lie, clowns.

  4. Why so mean TROLLio? How does calling me stupid help me understand your point? And, why on earth would I lie? The 25 years of work experience that I alluded to was in Canada, so it must be an entirely different world north of the border?! Thumbs actually do lie, the world is full of haters. Thankfully, us sane and intelligent people out number you! 🙂