Vogue magazine chose Karlie Kloss, a white model, to appear as a Japanese geisha instead of an actual Japanese model.
In the photo spread, Kloss’ signature blonde hair is replaced with thick, long black locks done up in the Japanese Shimada style, and her skin, appearing more pale than usual, is draped in traditional Japanese patterns and kimonos.
And this photo spread appeared in the magazine’s March diversity issue, which came out on Feb. 14.
News flash to Vogue magazine: A white supermodel in a kimono is NOT diversity.
As you can imagine, the backlash was strong and swift.
Somebody tweeted: “scarjo wasn’t available?” (referring to the casting of Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell” and the whitewashing controversy).
Another Twitter user wrote, “Apparently nobody sent the ‘yellow face is in fact racism’ memo to Vogue.”
Vogue was celebrating the diversity of “the modern American woman” and featured models of different ethnicities, skin tones, and body types on its cover.
One of the models was Liu Wen, who is Chinese and the first Asian to grace the cover of Vogue US (an honor diluted by her sharing the space with six other models). Social media users questioned why she wasn’t used for the Japanese inspired spread inside the magazine.
Others pointed out the added irony of Kloss’ six-page spread, while Liu Wen and another model of color (Imaan Hammam of Egyptian and Moroccan descent) were given only one picture each.
Since then, Kloss has issued an apology on Twitter saying that she was “truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive,” and that she will ensure her future shoots and projects reflect her mission to “empower and inspire women.”
Her apology was received with skepticism since Kloss also apologized in 2012 for wearing a Native Indian outfit for a Victoria’s Secret catwalk show.
The decision to feature Kloss as a geisha is especially troubling after last year’s widely covered controversies in which white actresses were cast for roles originally written for Asian characters in two big-budget films: Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell,” and Tilda Swinton in “Doctor Strange.”
Vogue chose to ignore its own celebration of diversity (and Japanese models), and used yellowface and cultural appropriation instead.
It’s incredibly disappointing to see that this photo shoot made it through all the stages of editing without anyone saying, “Hey, isn’t this inappropriate? Especially considering it’s going in our diversity issue?”
After a certain point, apologies aren’t enough. Fashion types and celebrities need to step up and stop making offensive, racist calls.