R&B songstress SZA aired out her frustrations on social media this week after revealing to fans that a publication she was set to collaborate with refused to let her use a Black photographer for an upcoming magazine shoot.
In a Twitter post that has since garnered over 82,000 likes since its posting on Tuesday, May 25, the “Good Days” singer wrote, “I requested a black photographer for a cover n the mag told me no lol its 2021.. and almost Juneteenth.” The 30-year-old added, “Respectfully I can’t do it 🥺🤷🏾♀️.”
Supporters quickly came to her defense, while others applauded her for not moving forward with the project. One Twitter user wrote, “damn she turned down a worker who wasn’t her skin tone, I feel like there’s a word for this.” Another replied, “there are several words for this.. giving opportunities to those who have been denied for centuries.”
Several fans demanded to know the name of the publication. However, the singer refused to out the company, stating that it wasn’t in her nature to do such a thing, but noted that there were “TOO many elite black creatives rn to not allow it.”
The lack of Black photographers in the editorial arena has been an ongoing discussion for some time now, specifically on social media platforms such as Twitter and Club House. Lovers of the art form have often highlighted the apparent consequences of when Black talent is shot by those who aren’t experienced in capturing their melanin skin tones.
In 2020, iconic fashion magazine Vogue faced backlash for hiring renowned white photographer Annie Leibovitz to do the August 2020 cover for Olympic Gold medalist Simone Biles. Many described Leibovitz’s efforts to capture Biles’ skin tone as subpar, including one Twitter user who wrote, “I adore Simone Biles and am thrilled she’s on this cover… but I hate these photos.” She added, “I hate the toning, I hate how predictable they are, I hate the social crop here (wtf?) and I super hate that Vogue couldn’t be bothered to hire a Black photographer.”
Another person wrote, “This photo of THE Simone Biles for Vogue magazine was taken by ‘THE’ Annie Leibovitz. How a person can work as a professional photographer for decades and still be this bad at lighting and photographing dark skin is baffling to me. Annie are you ok?”
Leibovitz also infamously shot the April 2008 Vogue cover for LeBron James, who became the first Black man to grace the cover alongside model Gisele Bundchen. The shoot drew criticism for its stark resemblance to a poster that showed a gorilla carrying a damsel in distress with the caption “DESTROY THIS MAD BRUTE.” Many claimed the cover was “perpetuating racial stereotypes,” depicting the “dangerous black man” running off with a beautiful white woman.
Still, those who can have made the efforts to bring Black creatives into these exclusive spaces. In its over 100 years in print, Vogue hired its first Black photographer in 2018 with then 23-year-old Tyler Mitchell at the request of Grammy Award winner Beyoncé, who was given unprecedented creative control for her feature. However, there’s more work to be done. Legendary supermodel Naomi Campbell has appeared on more than 500 magazine covers and has been in the business for more than three decades. Still, it wasn’t until 2019 that she got the chance to work with a Black photographer, London-based creative Campbell Addy, in her words, “in mainstream fashion.”
Meanwhile, even after expressing her disappointment, SZA took time out to acknowledge publications that have honored her request to use Black creatives. In a Twitter post, she stated, “S/o @RollingStone @Cosmopolitan and @wonderlandmag btw for all using black photogs in our recent covers 💜.” She added, “gotta celebrate when it’s RIGHT too ! 🙏🏾💛”