Sports Illustrated under fire for ‘racist’ photo shoot
Sports Illustrated magazine sparked a racial controversy this week over its latest swimsuit edition featuring bikini-clad models posing with African and Chinese natives dressed in traditional garb.
The overall theme of this year’s issue, which is currently on sale, was the seven continents, with the models doing photo-shoots in countries like Namibia, Spain, Chile and Australia.
However, the magazine landed in hot water over its decision to have the scantily-clad women photographed next to some local inhabitants in the places they visited as if they were ‘exotic props,’ according to some critics.
One of the images that has sparked the most outrage shows model Anne V, who is Caucasian and blonde, sitting on a traditional raft on a river in Guilin, Guangxi, being piloted by an elderly Chinese man sporting a typical cone hat.
The second image that has been deemed offensive depicts Emily DiDonato frolicking in a two-piece swimsuit in Namibia with a San man wearing a loincloth and other tribal accessories, and carrying a spear.
Writer Dodai Stewart scolded the magazine in the prominent feminist blog Jezebel, accusing Sports Illustrated of perpetuating age-old stereotypes harking back to colonial times and using natives as fashion accessories while emphasising the ‘centrality’ of the white models.
“China has tons of skyscrapers and modern cities that make New York look rickety, but this image recreates an age-old narrative in which anything non-Western is quaint, backward and impoverished,” Stewart wrote in reference to the China photo shoot.
In her takedown of the Namibia images, the Jezebel writer noted that despite Africa’s status as the cradle of civilisation and the continent’s impressive diversity, Sports Illustrated chose “to tap into the West’s past obsession/fetishisation with so called savages”.
According to HipHopWired.com, a black model was supposed to be featured in the Africa photo shoot, but a white model was chosen instead, allegedly to provide ‘better contrast.’
Dr David Leonard, associate professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University, told Yahoo! Shine that much like picturesque locales, people of colour are seen as exotic and uncivilised “as a point of comparison for the civilized white beauties”.
Leonard went on to say that beyond their use as human props, the natives in the images are imagined as servants there to please Westerners on their exotic adventure.