Feature

Claudia Schiffer's blackface photos: Defensible?

Is it ever okay to use makeup to make a white fashion model look black?

Supermodel Claudia Schiffer is entangled in a racially tinged controversy, after a two-year-old photo showing her in black makeup and wearing an Afro wig was republished in Stern Fotografie, a German style publication. The image was part of a series shot by designer and photographer Karl Lagerfeld for a Dom Perignon advertising campaign. Shevelle Rule, fashion editor at black lifestyle magazine Pride, has savaged the shot as a thoughtlessly provocative throwback to minstrel shows. But a spokesperson for Schiffer says Lagerfeld photographed the model with several different ethnic looks, "to reflect different men's fantasies." An adequate excuse?

Sorry, Claudia. Blackface is still offensive: Claudia Schiffer apparently "missed the memo on blackface," says Castina W. at PopCrunch. So did Tyra Banks, who has styled white models as blacks or Native Americans on "The CW’s America’s Next Top Model," and "It Girl" Lara Stone, who appeared in French Vogue "with black paint smeared across her creamy skin." Here's an idea: Try honoring different types of beauty by actually hiring "more beautiful models of color."
"Claudia Schiffer blackface"

Blackface doesn't equal bigotry: Blackface isn't always racist, says Ronda Racha Penrice in The Grio. It was offensive in old-time minstrel shows, because they spread horribly offensive black stereotypes. But Robert Downey, Jr. got away with his blackface performance in Tropic Thunder in 2008. and "Saturday Night Live"'s Fred Armisen gets positive reviews for his impersonation of President Obama. Today's audiences are willing to consider an artist's intent "before they cry foul."
"Is 'blackface' always beyond the pale?"

At least Lagerfeld's an equal-opportunity provocateur: If blackface Claudia made you "cringe," says Steff Yotka in Fashionista, you'll really hate "faux Asian Claudia." In another of the six images in Lagerfeld's series, Schiffer is wearing a traditional Asian outfit with makeup to give her narrow eyes. Though it's clear these images are "meant to be iconic and kitschy," and rely on the viewer's ability to recognize "pop culture references," this was just a "bad idea."
"Analyzing Karl Lagerfeld's photos of Claudia Schiffer"

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