The cover of Thursday’s edition of Los Angeles Times magazine The Envelope delivered six white actresses with the tagline “A Shift in Focus: Actresses call for change in the way many stories are told.” Reeeeealllly?? Really.
This bit of flagrant hypocrisy was rightfully scrutinized, and actress Jessica Chastain—who appeared on the cover with Annette Bening, Kate Winslet, Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan, and Diane Kruger—was singled out, since she often goes out of her way to advocate for equality in Hollywood.
On Saturday evening, Chastain answered the criticism with a series of tweets, calling the cover “sad.”
While the sentiment of the statement is encouraging, and it’s right to identify a systemic problem in Hollywood, what’s left out greatly diminishes the strength of Chastain’s words. Calling for “more inclusion” amounts to an abdication of responsibility when one has the power to make it so. Any or all of the white women featured on this cover might have refused to be on it unless women of color were featured as well. Having been called out on their lack of resolve, they might have vowed never to participate in such a charade again and urge others of similar stature to follow their lead. (Here’s a good Twitter thread on the subject, by April Reign, who created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.)
This response is not good enough, and it especially falls short because Chastain has positioned herself as a champion of “female storytelling” in Hollywood. But a feminist analysis is hollow without a racial analysis at its core. And any analysis of power imbalance is hollow if one refuses to factor oneself into that equation, which will at some points inevitably require taking action against one’s own immediate self interest.