by Avon Dorsey
*clears throat* ...If possible, everybody sing-a-long in perfect harmony, "Here come the men in black..." (shout out to Will Smith as we borrow a music line from his eponymous film), lol. But seriously, we're happy to confirm that sightings of Black men -on magazine covers- have been reported across the globe. WOWSERS!!!
This month, Kobe Bryant joined a league of extraordinary gentlemen who have graced the covers of international men's magazines; his portrait was snapped for L'Uomo VOGUE.
(L'Uomo VOGUE- October 2009 Cover. Kobe Bryant, Photographed by Mark Seliger)
Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding the lacking use of Black models, VOGUE magazine's Italian versions have apparently become the front-runners for ethnic diversity within the high-fashion publishing arena; Bryant's recent appearance on the cover is neither the first nor an impromptu profile of a Black man, rather L'Uomo VOGUE has quite often featured positive and progressive editorial opportunities for men of color -dating as far back as 2007- with cover images of Snoop Dogg and P. Diddy (not to mention the much hyped 'Black Issue' printed for women during the summer of 2008).
(L'Uomo VOGUE- December 2007 Cover. Cordazar Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus, Photographed by Mark Seliger)
(L'Uomo VOGUE- October 2008 Cover. Sean John "Diddy" Combs, Photographed by Mark Seliger)
In regards to Black men having more visibility on newsstands within the US, such a feat would require a cultural rolling-up of our sleeves and a proclivity to make a louder noise on the front line of racial equality. But fret not, hope has always existed for brunneous folk even before the spotlight shone bright on today's aesthetic injustices; there have always been occurences of Blacks -both men and women- being a part of the bigger picture.
Even a few years ago, in 2005 GQ magazine hailed rap mogul Curtis Jackson (a.k.a 50 Cent), as their 'Man of the Year' (basketball star Lebron James and US President Obama were eventually made into GQ cover stars themselves).
(GQ- February 2009 Cover. Lebron James, Photographed by Nathaniel Goldberg)
(GQ- September 2007 Cover. President Barack Obama, Photographed by Peggy Sirota)
But, in stark contrast to the latter James and Obama images, Jackson was depicted -less tactful- busting out of his shirt with arms exposed and tie flying in the wind, conjuring up the image of either a strapping Mandingo or a romance-novel pirate; you be the judge...
(GQ- December 2005 Cover. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Photographed by Peggy Sirota)
Comparingly similar, before James appeared 'properly suited up' for his GQ appearance (back in February), he encountered his own share of image controversy in 2008, after he appeared on the cover of US VOGUE.
Out of the magazine's 117 year history, only Richard Gere and George Clooney precede him as the other two men -dead or alive- who have appeared on the cover.
(1st male to ever appear on a US VOGUE Cover, November 1992. Richard Gere with ex-wife Cindy Crawford, Photographed by the late Herb Ritts), (2nd male to ever appear on a US VOGUE Cover, June 2000. George Clooney with Gisele Bündchen, Photographed by the late Herb Ritts), (3rd male to ever appear on a US VOGUE Cover, April 2008. Lebron James with Gisele Bündchen, Photographed by Annie Leibovitz)
Yet, in both commending James' accomplishment and attempting to deconstruct his wild and raucus appearance, many critics have found fault with his VOGUE cover, some even pointing out illusionary references to the assassination of the Black male image; again, you be the judge...
Moreover, Blacks -in general- and yes, even still in 2009, have to be able to take the bitter with the sweet, and understand that every Black image shouldn't have to be scrutinized and unconsciously scanned for flaws or misrepresentation, but instead be acknowledged as another milestone achievement for those Blacks who continue to gain more control and power in their respective fields; because at the end of the day, it's still about the bigger picture (and not about the bigger nigger).
On a brighter side, Black men can at least say that they've felt at home with being regularly featured in Men's VOGUE (which, unfortunately, folded earlier this year). Black celebrities/actors and personalities were displayed on the cover 5 out of 12 times while the publication was in print! A bizjournals property, portfolio.com, published an interview by Jeff Bercovici with former Men's VOGUE editor-in-chief Jay Fielden commenting on the matter, Fielden said, "I don't think that Tiger or [President] Obama appeal only to one segment of the population." He further went on record to say, "In fact, they proved to be two of the best-selling covers we've ever done... If there is some industry rule of thumb that you can't have African-Americans on the cover more than so many times a year, then we're glad to [have been] the ones disproving it." Bravo!
(Men's VOGUE- April 2006 Cover. Tiger Woods, Photographed by Annie Leibovitz)
(Men's VOGUE- October 2006 Cover. President Barack Obama, Photographed by Annie Leibovitz)
(Men's VOGUE- November 2007 Cover. Denzel Washington, Photographed by Norman Jean Roy)
(Men's VOGUE- January 2008 Cover. Will Smith, Photographed by Norman Jean Roy)
(Men's VOGUE- October 2008 Cover. President Barack Obama, Photographed by Annie Leibovitz)
And with the industry's steady approach towards 'positively' reconstructing the image of ethnicity in the media, corporate leaders must keep in mind that Black consumers need to feel more connected to a brand instead of being made to feel like an occassional novelty. Some publishers could even take a lesson from the past and revere those strong images of Black men that once conquered the newsstands -such as the iconic Muhammad Ali, who thrice covered the pages of Esquire,
(Esquire- August 1966 Cover. Floyd Patterson & Cassius Marcellus Clay, by George Lois)
(Esquire- April 1968 Cover. Muhammad Ali, by George Lois)
(Esquire- October 2003 Cover. Muhammad Ali & Cassius Marcellus Clay, by John Korpics)
...And don't forget about those leading men who were once photographed for EM- Ebony Man.
(EM- April 1988 Cover. Dorian Harewood, by Johnson Publications)
(EM- August 1988 Cover. Billy Dee Williams, by Johnson Publications)
(EM- March 1990 Cover. Sugar Ray Leonard, by Johnson Publications)
Ultimately, the fashion industry should learn to be more creative in diversifying the persona of Black men, without constantly rotating the limited roster of athletes and entertainers. Let's instead be inspired to employ the use of Black male models and avant-garde artists, such as those featured in Trace or Bleu magazine...
(Bleu- Summer 2008 Cover. Wendell Lissimore, Photographed by Justin Farkas)
(Bleu- Fall 2008 Cover. Group photo, Photographed by Johnny Rodriguez)
(Bleu- Hot Issue 2009 Cover. Shawn Sutton, Photographed by Justin Farkas)
...Let's even celebrate the spirit of those young men who are global ambassadors, living colorful lives and treading the streets of the world. At some point we all feel a little lost, but God always 'covers' us so that we may clearly know the course of our own destiny.
(Black Boy, an Autobiography by Richard Wright)
www.men.style.com, www.esquire.com, www.ebay.com (Jaymo's Garage Sale), en.wikipedia.org, www.amazon.com, www.thefashionspot.com, www.huffingtonpost.com and www.google.com