From Gap-lite to ‘rule-breakers’: the Vanity Fair Hollywood issue

The new issue claims to tout ‘game-changers’ but it’s not as radical as it thinks it is

It is a fresh, diverse clutch of actors – sorry, “game-changers, newcomers, and rule-breakers” – on show on the cover of the 25th-anniversary Vanity Fair Hollywood issue, led by Chadwick Boseman, Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. A lot has changed: new editor (Radhika Jones), new photographer (cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki replacing Annie Leibovitz), and, for the first time ever, a majority of non-white faces among the lineup: seven out of 11. Oh, and unlike last year, no Photoshop fails.

A lot has not changed, too. In its 25 years, Vanity Fair’s annual movie love-in has come to represent the whole idea of “Hollywood”. What else is there to it? Some giant letters on a hillside? A bunch of star shapes on a pavement? A few LA studios? Vanity Fair’s Hollywood is the one we like to imagine: an exclusive club full of glamorous actors who are great friends and regularly hang out with each other dressed in their red-carpet best.

In that respect, this year’s cover is barely any different: men in formal suits (no ties this year – ooh, rule-breaking!); women in haute couture; plush red fabrics; chandeliers; lots of hand contact; studiously casual. They look as if they are relaxing backstage after a fantastic Oscars afterparty that you weren’t invited to.

It is fun to look back to VF’s first Hollywood cover, in 1995, and see what has changed. That one featured 10 female stars lined up against a white backdrop like an identity parade. Poor Linda Fiorentino didn’t even get a top. The softcore aspect has waxed and waned since, reaching its peak with 2006’s (clothed) Tom Ford posing with naked Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson (fold out the cover to see Scarlett’s bum!). The Leibovitz aesthetic has evolved through “preppy Gap vibe” to its more recent “pre-Raphaelite perfume ad” phase but the diversity aspect has been pretty poor until lately. By my count, in the Hollywood issue’s first decade, only 12 out of 109 cover stars were people of colour.

The selection criteria are difficult to fathom. For every big name – Nicole Kidman or Brad Pitt – there is a “where’s IMDb when you need it?” figure such as Vinessa Shaw or Barry Pepper (ah yes, Battlefield Earth!). Conspicuous by their absence are more “commercial” stars such as Adam Sandler, Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg. Maybe not the type of members this club has in mind?

If it is about award-winning talent, then it’s also hit-and-miss: out of this year’s 11 cover stars, only three are Oscar-nominated. Sure, it’s all about the future and changing the game this time around, but it still feels as if they’re poking their heads through the holes in one of those seaside cut-outs. Maybe the illusion is all “Hollywood glamour” ever was, but there is a lot more game yet to change.

Contributor

Steve Rose

The GuardianTramp

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