In a super-spoiler, ET posted pictures of the remaining America's Next Top Model contestants from a photoshoot in Maui. The concept of the shoot involves making the ladies look biracial. Meaning: some of the models are in blackface.
The episode airs tonight, but these pictures reveal that Nicole Fox, seen in the image above, has dark skin, a bone necklace and a West African-looking headwrap.
Nicole is actually a pale-skinned redhead.
Jennifer An, an Asian-American model from Philly, also appears to have had her skin darkened.
This is what Jennifer usually looks like.
This is Erin Wagner, as she appeared early in on the show — she's since received a makeover in which her eyebrows and hair were bleached.
In an image from the Maui shoot, you see she's getting some kind of textured wig, and you can clearly see the brown makeup that's being smeared on her arm.
Erin's shot from Maui is the "bi-racial" version of herself.
Guest Contributor Minh-ha wrote on Racialicious that when women have their skin tones changed, it's what Nirmal Puwar describes as "the universal empty point" that white female bodies are able to occupy precisely because their bodies are racially unmarked: "[Thus] they can play with the assigned particularity of ethnicized dress without suffering the ‘violence of revulsion.'"
We'll have to watch tonight to hear what Tyra has to say about the concept, but as a mixed-race person, I'll admit that the pictures are interesting. It seems like it's not just blackface, but an exploration of the mixing of cultures and ethnicities, and imagining the models in different cultures. I suspect it's no coincidence that this shoot took place in Hawai'i — where those with white, Asian, black and South Pacific backgrounds have produced lots of multiracial people — and "other" or "mixed" is 23% of the population (Asian is 42%; white is 24% — a minority). There's even a word for it: hapa.
Growing up mixed, having cousins and Aunts and Uncles with all different skin tones, I've always found an attraction to — and a resonance with — people who look like they are ethnically ambiguous (or ambiguously "ethnic"?) But the problem, of course, is that race is not silver eyeshadow, a bubble skirt or couture gown. It's not something you put on for a photo shoot to seem "edgy." Race is not trendy. The thing is, fashion is a visual language; playing with colors and tones will always be something stylists and photographers gravitate towards. So is this creativity actually insensitivity?
As a black woman working in fashion, Elizabeth Gates wrote for the Daily Beast that she was not surprised by the French Vogue blackface, saying: "I would be fooling myself if I thought the draftsmen behind fashion's most beautiful things were ever going to be sensitive to race, black women, or how they represent our cultural history. In fact, I'm not exactly sure why this was a shock to anyone."
But this ANTM shoot was put together by Tyra Banks: Black model, creator, host, head judge and executive producer of the show. You'd think that she would be sensitive to racial issues. I have to assume her intent was probably to showcase bi-racial beauty. Is this a case in which the action can be forgiven if the motive comes from a good place?