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Fans are Divided on Vanity Fair’s Makeup-Free, Partially Nude Portraits of Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis

Avatar • Feb 8, 2016

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Vanity Fair recently released its annual Hollywood Issue which features up-and-comers in the film industry. The cover is beautiful and rightfully includes Lupita Nyong’o, Viola Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. But it’s the “additional intimate portraits”, shot by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz that are causing a stir.

All feature the cover actresses a bit more stripped down. But Nyong’o and Davis appear to be the only actresses, aside from Charlotte Rampling, to be partially nude, and the two with the least amount of makeup — by far.

For reference, here are the portraits of the other featured actresses.

Here are Nyong’o and Davis.

LUPITA NYONG’O

LUPITA NYONG’O

VIOLA DAVIS

VIOLA DAVIS

Fans are speaking out on what some feel is a troubling trend of black actresses forced to de-glam themselves, a topic black cinema site Shadow and Act spoke on back in 2011 (before Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis’ career-changing roles in Empire and How to Get Away With Murder, respectively.)

The subject came up when I had a conversation with a regular S & A reader involved in the theater as a director about how often black actors and actresses I’ve met in person, are much better looking than they appear on screen.

I told the reader one person who immediately came to mind was Taraji P. Henson. Meeting her, I was stuck by how just adorably cute she is in person. However that vision of her has yet to appear on the screen, where either she’s made to look awful (think Hustle and Flow or her matronly appearance in Benjamin Button), or even in films where she’s “normal,” such as The Karate Kid, Not Easily Broken, or Date Night, where she’s made to look haggard and not at all well photographed.

But the worst case I mentioned must be Viola Davis. I’ve met Ms. Davis, and the person I met was incredibly attractive, and with a trim, fantastic body (speaking as a guy I tend to notice things like that…). But that’s not the Viola Davis you regularly encounter in movies. She almost always looks awful, and I suspected at the time perhaps sometimes padded to make her look bigger. And now as she revealed in The Help she was. I mean was that really necessarily for her to gain all that weight and have the padding as well? You mean there are no thin black maids?”

After the Vanity Fair photos were posted to their Facebook page, fans of black feminist site ForHarriet.com debated them.

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This is not the first time Liebovitz has been criticized for her portrayal of a high profile black person. She was blasted in April 2008 for shooting Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen in a photo that channelled King Kong.

Image compilation from Complex.com

Image compilation from Complex.com

However, other fans felt the the issue is how we define what is unattractive and unkempt in the black community, and our collective discomfort with seeing ourselves in our most natural state — tight coils, deep brown skin and all.

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Ladies, what are your thoughts on all of this?

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uhoh-ohno
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uhoh-ohno

There is definitely a stark contrast between the way that Viola and Lupita are photographed vs. the other women, who also happen to be either white or fairer skinned. That said, I don’t think it’s fair to get upset before getting input from Davis and Nyong’o, on the off chance that they were photographed the way they wanted to be. I remember when Melissa McCarthy shot an Elle cover wearing a enormous coat, and a lot of people in the FA community took offense because they felt like Melissa’s body was purposely being hidden (as if we don’t already know… Read more »

ger
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ger

Join the discussionto the grayton carter and his magazine another editor from more magazine abby perlman resently got envolved in coraption business with crazy cbs anchor otis livingston to stel money from vinity fair employees bank accaunts. never trust abby perlman and otis livingston they bouth belongs in prison.

fromanotherplanet
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fromanotherplanet

I am so glad I do not use social media. The constant outrage is exhausting.

liberianwoman
Guest
liberianwoman

Oh, lord. This around and about topic again?

yoda
Guest
yoda

They are beautiful women but come on. They look rough! Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t look like she was stripped of makeup and hair styling products and neither does Helen Mirren. I feel this was deliberately done to make them look bad.

S. Williams
Guest
S. Williams

personally I think they look STUNNING!!!! even without the additional lighting the richness of their hue shines through. I think it makes a bolder statement that the darkest women were still able to be stunning without additional help. something about the melanin in our skin has us looking glam on what others perceive to be our worst days. like one commenter said, we need to take a look at what we as black women deem “disheveled” and “unkempt” and shine the light on us. we don’t need to be “beat fa da gawds” to be considered beautiful. Viola herself has… Read more »

Lola
Guest
Lola

Everybody raised salient points but Leobrowowhatchatcallit should stick to a pattern. If you’re doing natural look, stick to it with EVERYONE. If you’re doing ‘makeup natural’ then stick to it. We can be beautiful either way. But she’s awful though

clever_moniker
Guest

The other chicks need all the help they can get so I say go ‘head Viola and Lupita!

Yabbyrella
Guest
Yabbyrella

No no no no NO. This is soo incredibly offensive. I’m not uncomfortable by seeing fellow sisters in their natural state. I’m natural proud, and wear little makeup on a regular basis. However, I’m disgusted by how blatant their efforts are- how stupid they think we are. They make our stars their tokens. Take away makeup, good lighting, and hair conditioner, then put them next to the typical “hollywood” broads. I want to see Jennifer Lawrence without the blush and winged eyeliner, Helen Miren without her red lip. They aren’t special. We really need to stop begging for white acceptance… Read more »

Jc Jc
Guest
Jc Jc

lol, i love this comment

Jc Jc
Guest
Jc Jc

I look pretty much like the photos of Lupita and Viola on most days with the exception that it would be pretty difficult to capture me on film without a smile. I guess minimalists like myself who are happy with freshly washed shrunken hair and a clean face are clearly not the norm. Try and tell me I am not beautiful and I will show you a liar 🙂

Heather Stuebe
Guest
Heather Stuebe

And what’s the deal with Diane Keaton? She’s dressed like Sherlock Holmes or something.

yoda
Guest
yoda

You almost made me lose my mind lmao

Reece Wynter
Guest
Reece Wynter

lol

Miss.
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Miss.

lmao she always dresses like that

Kevin Bacon
Guest
Kevin Bacon

There are bugger fish to fry in the world and yet idiots are crying over this. Pull up your big girl panties and move tf on

Miss.
Guest
Miss.

people can focus on more than one thing at a time!! *gasp* the power of the human brain, let us all bask in it’s power.

enough with this tired argument.

Kevin Bacon
Guest
Kevin Bacon

There are bigger fish to fry in the world and yet idiots are crying over this. Pull up your big girl panties and move tf on.

fromanotherplanet
Guest
fromanotherplanet

And did anyone stop to think that maybe Lupita and Viola wanted de-glammed shots? Did people stop to think that because they co-signed the shots? Like, this constant outrage is just too damn exhausting.

Mia Robinson
Guest
Mia Robinson

i think they look great but i get both sides of the argument. I don’t get why she singled them out though. Why not just do the same thing with everyone? It makes it worse that they are three black women and she only did it to the two darker skin women. All these actresses have been in roles where they look tired or haggard or are without makeup so once again, why not photograph them all the same? Anyway, Lupita and Viola are gorgeous!!

Reece Wynter
Guest
Reece Wynter

maybe she was showing off their skin… I may be alone but I think they look gorgeous without makeup.. Perhaps makeup doesn’t ALWAYS improve someone’s natural beauty? To be fair I admire beautiful skin a lot more then makeup, even though when skillfully applied it is breathtaking. Naturally I’m always attracted to the less is more, keep in mind some people have this view.

Kat Feliz
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Kat Feliz

Maybe the other actors needed the make up and Viola and Lupita did not.

BGLHRinny
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BGLHRinny

Oop

Jacky
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Jacky

I do not like those pictures of Lupita and Viola and Davis at all. They brought tears to my eyes because they remind me of slave-trade. Why would she make the White people look glam and the black people look like slaves? It’s almost as if she is trying to send a a clear message. To put us in our place.. which according to her is in the slave-trade era. I know that there are still some white people who have no regrets about the slave trade era and actually miss it. Now keep in mind that because black people… Read more »

Ugonna Wosu
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Ugonna Wosu

How are they being portrayed as slaves? Is that what no makeup means to you?

Jacky
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Jacky

Ugonna Wosu, NIRA, Reece Winter. Thank you for pointing out my mistake to me. I think that they look Awesome but that wouldn’t be noticeable from the tone of my previous comment. I was very upset that they were set apart and stripped down, which reminded me of the slave-trade era when blacks were set apart, literally stripped down, treated inhumanely and viewed as inferior to white people. I couldn’t fathom why the only two black women in the shoot were set apart and stripped down. That doesn’t mean that they look bad. I’m just saying, it makes me feel… Read more »

Rose
Guest
Rose

I am moreso confused by the way that the two dark-skinned actresses are portrayed in a totally different fashion than the others. I think if we get explanation on that, we can discuss if it is right or wrong. Without it, there is little context; all I see are two beautiful black women.

liberianwoman
Guest
liberianwoman

This site use to be wonderful to visit. Not anymore.

Deedeemaha
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Deedeemaha

I would ask everyone to enlarge both pictures by themselves. These are impressive photographs of both ladies. You literally see The light in her eyes face tip of her nose. Absolutely beautiful! The power in her The position of her hands just shows strength. Her lips! If that’s no make on them Well let’s just say, Make up World you need to event some ASAP. And Lupita.…. If one side of the face looks this good .… Yea you killing them with a full face view. Lovely skin for days. She smelling with her cheeks. Power View. I assolutely love… Read more »

Oratilwe
Guest
Oratilwe

This looks more like they feel that these women look bad without make up and clothing than anything else…

Miss.
Guest
Miss.

viola’s pained expression and the bad lighting and angle in both their pics would say otherwise. There’s a big contrast between the pics but whatever…

Young Brian
Guest
Young Brian

lets keep it real, black women are beautiful, they don’t need make up. most white people tan, because they want to be darker…so what does that tell you…but to my sisters, we have to own more magazines that will promote who we are. dark skin women are some of the finest on this earth. its been far to long we have allow other people to tell us who we are. ‘WE ARE NOT WHO THEY SAY WE ARE. WE ARE WHO WE KNOW WE ARE. wish they could have shown more black skin.….LET ME SAY, sometimes pale is not a… Read more »

maralondon
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maralondon

The most make up I’ve ever worn are lipstick and eyeliner on special occasions. The white girls at school told me i was lucky with my skin color because it meant i didn’t need to wear make up whilst they were caked up. Men liked the fact that I was not into make up and i always wanted others to accept me in my natural self.

Young Brian
Guest
Young Brian

black women are prefect in their skin. ~yb

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[…] debate has ensued on social media as to why Lupita and Viola were made to look, for a lack of a better term, ‘harsh’, and […]

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[…] debate has ensued on social media as to why Lupita and Viola were made to look, for a lack of a better term, ‘harsh’, and […]

Jojo - AgedneverOld
Guest
Jojo - AgedneverOld

Lupita and Viola’s portraits = art! Simply beautiful!

Reece Wynter
Guest
Reece Wynter

I don’t share the opinion that they look dishevelled or unkempt!

Reece Wynter
Guest
Reece Wynter

Thankyou!

Moo
Guest
Moo

people are uncomfartable and confused and violated because of what images like this mean to the white gaze and to the white photographer-just the whole context and history but at the same time they want to find these women beautiful as they are and afford them their agency, imagine a world where a black woman could actually WANT to look like “this” by themselves (whatver the crispy f‑k “this” means.lol). AND that, the wanting, changes the game entirely.like maybe lupita and viola wanted to be photographed like this or maybe they were advised this is what they would be photographed… Read more »

Miss.
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Miss.

girl…this is how commenters on here are…i anticipated the comments lol..

NIRA
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NIRA

Now if they would have put all white women and no black women then people would be raising hell. But they choose 2 beautiful natural women and thats okay with me. On the front cover they had on makeup and viola had on a wig. So exactly what is the problem..

UN-RULY
Guest

Agree 100% with the ForHarriette quote “What we deem as ‘disheveled’ and ‘feminine’ deserves some interrogation… ”

Also the S.A. quote seems to only be measuring these women on their appearance.

Abigail Reese-Kelley
Guest
Abigail Reese-Kelley

So I don’t think the issue is with beauty. We know that both Lupita and Viola are stunning- glammed up or sans make up and naked. They are gorgeous, intelligent, amazing women. I think the issue up for debate lies at the contrast between their photos and the photos of their colleagues. The other women were allowed to a) be fully clothed and b) glammed with makeup and different lighting. We don’t know if that was the choice of the ladies or the photographer. However, it calls to question why there had to be a difference between the ladies, especially… Read more »

MarieKersey
Guest
MarieKersey

This is what I’m thinking too. As a white woman, this makes me sad for both black and white women… I think the pictures of Lupita & Viola are by far the most beautiful, as well as the most humanizing. Someone said that “we celebrate white women’s beauty when it’s … natural” — do we? I never ever see pictures where a white woman’s skin is un-made up and un-retouched like in Lupita’s in that picture. I have such a hard time imagining portraits of any white female celebrities similar to either her’s or Viola’s. Look how very softened the… Read more »

Miss Elisa K.
Guest
Miss Elisa K.

Their photos are beautiful. However, in comparison to the other actresses, it seems suspect. If they all did the stripped down looked, I would understand. But It looks like two different photo shoots.

Rachel Takyi-Mensah
Guest
Rachel Takyi-Mensah

These women are all beautiful. I have two questions going through my head. First did they want to be photographed as they were? Maybe they decided on it. Next why is everyone else in makeup and everything? The fact that they were the only two completely natural makes me think that it was their choice and in that case we must respect that.

Rei Greenstreet
Guest
Rei Greenstreet

Excuse me if this seems simple minded, but if Nyongo and Davis felt the pictures portrayed them unfairly, could they not go through with the deal? Or do they sign photo releases without knowing the concept? I agree with some of the folks that are saying POC and non POC are photographed differently, but at the same time these women accepted the offer to be photographed, no?

Junie
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Junie

They both look great even in all that bad lighting.

Inkcube
Guest
Inkcube

I don’t know how these agreements usually go, but while they probably could have stopped the photos if they felt them unfair by themselves, they might not have been aware of the difference in portrayal to the other actresses.

Jwelch
Guest
Jwelch

I think both images show their strength and a sort of softness and that is part of what makes us beautiful

Ugonna Wosu
Guest
Ugonna Wosu

The photos are beautiful. I love the natural hair and faces. Besides,it’s not just them without the makeup. Charlotte Rampling is too. So what about Gugu? She has makeup on in her shot. I think it was an artistic decision and not a racist our. The photographer , rightly , thinks the two dark black women have lovely skin, which they do. Funny thing is, if the suite women had no makeup, and only the black women did, what would be the issue ? Would you complain that they’re saying black women aren’t naturally beautiful and white women are? Or… Read more »

kia
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kia

i really love viola’s photos. reminds me of the older women in my family

Katya
Guest
Katya

For Harriet shouldn’t have turned this around on us. No, this is a cut and dry issue. It’s discussing the comparison between the treatment of two groups of individuals by a photographer that already has a reputation and track record for portraying Black people negatively. We know we’re feminine and we know we’re beautiful in our natural state. This has nothing to do with our perspective of what “disheveled” and “feminine” mean. Our doubling back on ourselves instead of simply calling out things for what they are is part of what keeps holding us back from tackling problems at their… Read more »

Janet Holmes
Guest
Janet Holmes

Why O why do we feel the need to intergrade with them

Tree Fel
Guest
Tree Fel

1. The fact that the white women have make-up on and have their hard “did” while the black women don’t is suspect. And when you take into account the photographers history, even more so. 2. If it was Viola and Lupita who decided they were comfortable enough in themselves to go this route instead of make-up then more power to them! 3. I love love love the make-up less, fully natural pics of Viola and Lupita. I always see them on the red carpet and in movies/shows done up — make-up, hair did, looking photo-shoot ready, it’s nice to see… Read more »

kaydenpat
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kaydenpat

Viola and Lupita look beautiful with or without makeup. I have no problems with the Vanity Fair photos. We need to embrace ourselves — no matter what.

DeeLake
Guest
DeeLake

Both women are Beyoutifull with or without makeup!

Biss
Guest
Biss

I understood the point behind this article but I must say it had the complete opposite effect on me. All it did was prove to me how stunning Lupita and Viola are as opposed to the other ones. The shell doesn’t make the woman but the depth does. They feel real and strong to me when I look at them, the others though are covered by artificiality.

TJ
Guest
TJ

I don’t think the photos are “bad” or “unattractive” in themselves but I do question the contrast between Lupita and Viola’s photos and the others. This is after all a photographer who has made some questionable choices with at least one other Black subject in the past. Is this look one that they requested or is it a reflection of the photographer’s vision? Further, if they didn’t necessarily request this look but did consent to it, did they do so knowing the sharp contrast there would be between their pictures and the others? I understand the argument that they are… Read more »

Luptuous Life
Guest
Luptuous Life

I’m confused as to how the white ladies can even be in this “makeup free” portrait when they are clearly wearing makeup… Lupita and Viola are the only ones who are true to what the piece is supposed to be about and are actually makeup free and partially nude. I like their photos the best because they look real, like they’ve been snapped in thought or doing something in real life, not posing for a camera like all the others.

T. Wells
Guest
T. Wells

As a Black woman that doesn’t wear makeup — I love the photos of Viola and Lupita. They are real. We are NOT all glammed up 24/7 with weaves, etc. My mom never wore anything other than mascara and lipstick and I often wondered as a child why she didn’t wear makeup like everyone else. She didn’t need it, like many women don’t, but most choose to use it. I can’t tell you what shade or number of foundation would match my skin, I know nothing about contouring. I do know that seeing some celebrities without makeup saddens me because,… Read more »

NoMatterWhat
Guest
NoMatterWhat

The moment I saw these pictures, I thought these are some beautiful women. The fact that Lupita and Viola are portrayed without makeup and under the illusion of nudity connotes an ethereal feeling, like I have been granted a glimpse of a goddess in her powerful realm. The other women, no offense to them, are kind of bland, and mundane in comparison, like a human standing next to the Venus. If someone was trying to be derogatory, they failed completely. Black women, no better yet, dark skinned women of any nationality have beauty and I love seeing it in it’s… Read more »

SacredLaughter Perkins
Guest
SacredLaughter Perkins

THe real question is why do we associate bare without glam as dishevled and ugly. That is your perception. I think beauty deeper than makeup. No one looks the same without it. That doesnt make you ugly. It makes you confident in you own skin to do it and to be willing to do it with no problem. BEAUTY IS THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. They obviously think they are.….THEY KNOW they are beautiful. Everyday women wont be seen without makeup and hair. That is a personal but real problem.

Betty Poo
Guest
Betty Poo

Bravo! Someone who gets it!

NikiH
Guest
NikiH

The issue isn’t that they’re without makeup, the issue is that NONE of the other actresses are featured in the same way. If all of them were without makeup as Viola and Lupita are, I’d be able to appreciate it more. That’s that underhanded, shady, giving yet taking always bullish. Scheupsssssss

Kei
Guest
Kei

I honestly think as a nation we need our own. We wouldnt be having this conversation if these photographs were taken by a black photographer for a black mag.

Queen Mennon
Guest
Queen Mennon

I sincerely believe that how the photographer feels about their subject is reflected in the photograph they take (of the subject).

Ms. Ree
Guest
Ms. Ree

Love these photos! Lupita is giving classic profile that inspired Picasso. I don’t wear anything except lipstick and I told a white man at work my age today (55) and all he could say was “Wow! it must be genetics” and he repeated it at least twice, almost to himself like he couldn’t understand it. I get this reaction a lot from non-black folks. I understand the concern that now that we finally get to go mainstream we are portrayed in a certain way. But you really have to understand non-black folks unspoken fascination/admiration/envy of our skin, hair and style.… Read more »

Donna
Guest
Donna

In and of themselves, the pictures are artistically stunning, and Lupita’s and Viola’s beauty is unquestionable. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that when placed in a setting alongside white women, Lupita and Viola are partially nude, which sexualizes them in comparison to the other women who were fully clothed. They are presented as exotic and raw while the others are presented as “refined” and polished. It has very little to do with their beauty, and more to do with a history of displaying black bodies differently and more indigenously than white bodies.

Betty Poo
Guest
Betty Poo

Sexulized? Ridiculous! I guess you didn’t notice the bare shoulders on the white women, did you? Honestly, I think white ppl have a greater appreciation for black beauty than blacks.

HoneyRose
Guest
HoneyRose

I agree with both sides. There is definitely a difference in how Viola and Lupita are photographed and styled compared to the white women — all of the younger white women have minimal makeup and good lighting while Lupita and Viola are au naturel and are in poor light. But I also do think part of this is discomfort with the way that black women look in our natural state. That’s a tender, raw part of us — because we’ve always been told that we look ugly without our hair done a certain way and makeup to sculpt our features.

Betty Poo
Guest
Betty Poo

So, basically, the naked, stark pictures of the dark women has black women feeling some kind of way. This is more telling of black people’s rejection of blackness than anything else. If black ppl were truly intune with their (our) blackness, they’d recognize our skin doesn’t need make up and would applaud these photos. Instead, they want to call white ppl out for making them feel “uncomfortable”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, black women are their own worse enemy.

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