28 Mar 2008 Black Activists See No Racial Double-Meaning in LeBron James-Gisele Bundchen Vogue Magazine Cover
Washington, D.C. – While some might consider it a milestone that basketball star LeBron James became the first black man to grace the cover of Vogue for the fashion magazine’s April issue, critics are saying the photo of him with supermodel Gisele Bundchen is racially insensitive and “screams King Kong.” Members of the Project 21 leadership network join with James and others in saying those complaining about the photo are making a big deal out of nothing.
“There are some people who view everything through the lens of racial stereotypes,” said Project 21 fellow Deneen Borelli, who has worked as a professional model. “LeBron’s accomplishments on the basketball court lead him to the cover of Vogue magazine, making him the first black man to do so. Given the numerous disappointing stories involving professional athletes, LeBron’s story of success should be a focus and cause for celebration.”
Vogue’s April cover, advertising its “shape issue” that features articles on top models and athletes, is a photo taken by award-winning celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. In the photo, James – wearing athletic clothing, bouncing a basketball and seemingly yelling at the camera – has an arm around a smiling, gown-clad Bundchen.
Magazine analyst Samir Husni told the Associated Press the cover “screams King Kong” and that “when you have a cover that reminds people of King Kong and brings those stereotypes to the front, black man wanting white woman, it’s not innocent.” University of Maryland assistant professor Damion Thomas said photos such as this “reinforce the criminalization of black men.”
James dismissed the criticism of the photo. He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “who cares what anyone says?” Regarding his expression in the photo, he said he was “just showing a little emotion.”
Others suggest the criticism of the photo is racially-motivated for different reasons. In a Fox Sports column, Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock wrote: “Would we be having this discussion if LeBron struck the same pose on the cover of Ebony while holding [model] Selita Ebanks? Think about it. And if we wouldn’t be having the discussion, what does that say about us? Are we only bothered by negative images of black men when the primary/sole consumer of the image is white people?”
“Do you want to know what I think is the real reason behind this non-controversy? There are people who are, and probably forever will be, racially hypersensitive for either personal or professional reasons. Nothing that reasonable people say or do will convince them otherwise,” said Project 21 member Darryn “Dutch” Martin. “I believe critics are using this canard of racial stereotyping as a smokescreen to hide their true disdain for any images of interracial closeness or intimacy between black men and white women.”